December 23rd, 2011
04:07 PM ET

U.S. to North Korea: We are waiting

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

New North Korean leader issues first military orders
December 21st, 2011
02:18 PM ET

New North Korean leader issues first military orders

Kim Jong Un issued his first military orders as leader of North Korea just before the death of his father was announced, a South Korean state-run news agency said Wednesday.

Citing "a South Korean source," Yonhap reported that Kim "ordered all military units to halt field exercises and training and return to their bases."

The source called it a sign that Kim Jong Il's son, believed to be in his late 20s, had taken "complete control over the military," Yonhap reported.

An intelligence official said North Korea may be trying to prevent attempted defections as the country goes through a tumultuous transition, the report said.

Read the whole story here

Filed under: Kim Jong Un • North Korea
North Korea's nuclear program
Kim Jong Un inspecting the Mokran Video Company in Pyongpang
December 20th, 2011
04:00 AM ET

North Korea's nuclear program

By Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson

When it comes to assessing the future of North Korea's nuclear position and potential threat under a new leader, even the experts describe this transfer of power as an interesting predicament.

"This one's tough to handicap," says Robert Gallucci, former chief negotiator with North Korea during the Clinton administration, and current president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Nuclear experts estimate that North Korea has enough plutonium to arm about a dozen weapons. David Albright who heads the Institute for Science and International Security said Pyongyang may have between six to twelve actual nuclear weapons.

U.S. officials puzzling over North Korean leadership
December 19th, 2011
04:25 PM ET

U.S. officials puzzling over North Korean leadership

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

Filed under: Kim Jong Il • Kim Jong Un • North Korea
North Korea-U.S. deal for food aid was in the works
North Korean soldiers at the border with South Korea on December 2
December 19th, 2011
12:42 PM ET

North Korea-U.S. deal for food aid was in the works

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

December 19th, 2011
09:47 AM ET

FIRST ON CNN: U.S. seeing no unexpected moves by North Korea

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

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