By Jamie Crawford
As a late twenty-something with no formal military experience of his own takes the reins of power over a cadre of octogenarian generals and a one-million man plus military, North Korea watchers are somewhat divided over the direction Kim Jong Un will ultimately take the hermetic country.
The North's propoganda machine is already in full rallying mode. A New Year's Day message released by the official Korean Central News Agency vowed to stand behind the new leader and defend him "unto death."
For its part, the United States is waiting for the new regime to make the next move. Any decision on moving forward with discussions over issues such as food aid and their nuclear program will have to wait.
"I don't think there's any substantive change from where we were just before the new year," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said recently, "which is that we're waiting to hear from the North Korean side."
With governments and experts alike reading the tea leaves of what the future on the Korean peninsula may hold, there are some early signs and questions to keep an eye on as to how things may bear out.
By Charley Keyes
When in doubt or in times of national turmoil - or, frankly, most days - the editors of the official North Korean news outlet pour on the superlatives, trot out the adjectives and pump up the rhetoric.
"The land and sky of the country seem to bitterly cry," says one official news agency report about public mourning for Kim Jong Il. "Can anyone believe this was a reality? How lamentable it is! Isn't it possible for the hearts of all Koreans to bring him back to life?" says Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA.
State media stories describe crowds overcome by grief and schoolchildren who "burst out sobbing before the portraits carrying his benevolent image that seems to be kindly calling them to come to him."
It's all part of governing by cult-of-personality. But between the lines, North Korea watchers are looking for indications of where the fallen leader's son and chosen successor, Kim Jong Un, now stands. The son remains a mystery both abroad and inside the country. FULL POST
By Elise Labott
In some ways, Kim Jong Il's death could not have come at a worse time for the United States.
Washington was seeing hopeful signs in a carefully orchestrated plan by the administration to engage the North Korean leadership. A success in bringing North Korea back to talking about its nuclear program would have given President Obama another foreign policy success to tout as he seeks re-election.
The initial meetings between the two sides, one as recently as last week, were promising. In offering some new food assistance to Pyongyang, the United States was reasonably assured the North would suspend its uranium enrichment program and resume operations to recover the remains of American soldiers missing in action from the Korean War.
American officials were hopeful that these modest steps would lead to a resumption of the long-stalled Six Party Talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
But this potential rapprochement has come to a screeching halt, at least while the North Korean people are engaged in their prerequisite mourning for the Dear Leader, and likely beyond that as the new North Korean leadership sorts out its new hierarchy. FULL POST
By Jamie Crawford
The United States has been in touch with North Korean government officials since the death of Kim Jong-il was announced, but those discussions were more "technical" in nature, a State Department spokeswoman said Tuesday.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the discussions were regarding the parameters for the resumption of U.S. food aid to North Korea.
"I can't speak to whether it was broader," Nuland said during a briefing with reporters. "But it was a technical level and it was designed to make clear that we still had questions with regard to the nutritional assistance issues."
In the absence of normalized diplomatic relations between the two countries, the U.S. communication with North Korean officials went through the normal channel of the North Korean mission to the United Nations, Nuland said.
By Pam Benson
The U.S. is trying to get a better read on the still mysterious successor to North Korean leadership, American officials tell CNN. How Kim Jong Un will take over and act when he replaces his father remains to be seen. (Read about the next generation of Kims here)
"We’ve done, a significant amount of work to try understand" Kim Jong Un, said Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Monday. "I would only say at this point that he is young to be placed in this position and we’ll have to see whether in fact it is him and how he reacts to the burden of governance that he hasn’t had to deal with before.” (See more on Dempsey's comments here)
A U.S. official said it's really not clear how the succession in North Korea might go. (Read about questions regarding North Korea's ruling class here)
"A lot depends on whether the power centers of the regime coalesce around Kim Jong Un, or see this period of uncertainty as an opportunity to change the balance of power internally. Those are very tricky calculations to make in an authoritarian society like North Korea," the official said.
The official described Kim Jong Un as having very similar mannerisms and personality as his father. The younger Kim's role "has been steadily expanded to build his credentials," noting that Kim Jong Un had been made a general, had military orders issued in his name and has made joint appearances with his father at high-level events. (Read more about the change in Korean leadership here) FULL POST
By Elise Labott
A possible exchange of U.S. nutritional aid to North Korea for a halt to Pyongyang's uranium enrichment program has stalled with the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, U.S. and South Korean officials said Monday.
The prospective deal was expected to lead to the resumption of six-party disarmament talks, after which North Korea would have expected a larger amount of food aid, the officials told CNN. The announcement had been slated for this week, they said.
In addition to halting its production of enriched uranium, which can be used to build nuclear weapons, North Korea also would have let inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency return, they said.
But with the news that Kim had died of a heart attack over the weekend, the announcement has been delayed, the officials said. The Obama administration now believes that the ball is in the North Koreans' court, and they will need to signal whether they're still interested, the officials say.
The State Department spokeswoman said officials were supposed to meet at the State Department on Monday about this potential deal, but with the death of Kim Jong Il, those discussions have not happened. FULL POST
CNN's Chris Lawrence reports on whether the death of Kim Jong Il could make North Korea a bigger military threat.
By Barbara Starr reporting from Ramstein Air Base in Germany and Chris Lawrence at the Pentago
The United States has seen no unexpected moves by the North Korean military since the announcement of Kim Jong Il's death, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday.
Gen. Martin Dempsey said the United States is remaining "vigilant" in the wake of the death of the North Korean leader.
In the first extended on the record comments from a senior U.S. official, Dempsey told a small group of reporters he was awakened overnight to receive the news and immediately joined in an inter-agency phone call of high levels officials to discuss the situation.
Dempsey said he was informed "in the middle of the night" and the military held an overnight call that centered around identifying the key military and intelligence indicators that the U.S. would keep watch on in the coming days for any early warning of instability in the regime. Though Kim died on Saturday, U.S. officials only learned of his death from North Korean television on Sunday night, administration officials tell CNN.
"The chain of command military and civilian very quickly coalesced around the fact that Kim Jon Jil had died," Dempsey said. "We quickly established a network of leaders to discuss this issue and to determine what we could do to contribute to understanding what might happen next."
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke with his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-Jin, the Republic of Korea’s Minister for National Defense, on Monday morning, Pentagon spokesman George Little said. The call lasted 15 minutes FULL POST