NEWS
12/19/2011 08:15 EST | Updated 02/18/2012 05:12 EST

Kim Jong-Il Death Prompts World Leaders' Peace Calls

The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has raised hopes that nuclear disarmament talks on the volatile Korean peninsula can be resumed.

The Japanese government, in particular, is watching to see whether Kim’s death will lead to a resumption of the so-called six party talks on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, CBC's Craig Dale reported from Tokyo. The discussions involving North and South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and the U.S. have been suspended since 2009.

The news of Kim's death and the tension surrounding North Korea's estimated half-dozen nuclear weapons sparked calls for calm from leaders around the world.

Following a meeting in Tokyo with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said both countries "share a common interest in a peaceful and stable transition in North Korea," Clinton said Monday.

"We reiterate our hope for improved relations with the people of North Korea and remain deeply concerned about their well-being," she said.

Later Monday, Clinton issued a statement saying the U.S. hopes the country's new leadership will choose to guide the nation "onto the path of peace" by honouring North Korea's commitments, improving relations with neighbours and respecting the rights of its people.

The statement said the U.S. is ready to help the North Korean people, and Clinton urged the new leadership to "work with the international community to usher in a new era of peace, prosperity and lasting security on the Korean Peninsula."

Earlier, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd called the peninsula "the single largest militarily armed zone in the world. It has been thus for decades, and right now we're at one of those critical junctures in post-1950 military history where we need to ensure that calm and restraint are exercised at an exceptionally difficult period of transition."

Kim, who assumed power in 1994 after the death of his father, Kim Il-sung, is reported to have died Saturday after suffering a heart attack. His third son, Kim Jong-un, who is said to be in his 20s and the heir apparent, was dubbed the "great successor" by North Korea media on Monday.

In South Korea, where the military was put on alert following the surprise announcement of the leader's death, the Yonhap news agency said North Korea test-fired at least one short-range missile. South Korean officials don't believe the missile firing was linked with Kim's death.

Security meetings held

China, regarded as North Korea's closest ally, sent its condolences. Chinese state TV said China expressed confidence that co-operation between the two countries will continue, and said it had confidence in Kim Jong-un, Reuters reported.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu also said Beijing would make "active contributions to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in this region."

The Cuban government has decreed three days of mourning for the late North Korean leader.

The governments of South Korea and Japan both held national security meetings.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Kim Jong-il will be remembered "as the leader of a totalitarian regime who violated the basic rights of the North Korean people for nearly two decades."

'Reckless decisions'

“We hope his passing brings positive change allowing the people of North Korea to emerge from six decades of isolation, oppression and misery," Harper said in a statement. "The regime's reckless decisions have resulted in North Korea being an impoverished nation and a country isolated from the international community because of its dangerous nuclear proliferation and ballistic missile programs."

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney tweeted: "Let us hope that the North Korean people will soon be freed from the Communist prison in which they have been captive for six decades."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the change in leadership "could be a turning point for North Korea"

"We hope that their new leadership will recognize that engagement with the international community offers the best prospect of improving the lives of ordinary North Korean people," Hague said in a statement. "We encourage North Korea to work for peace and security in the region, and take the steps necessary to allow the resumption of the six-party talks on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula".

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon extended his condolences to the people of North Korea, and reaffirmed his commitment to peace and security on the Korean peninsula.

Just hours later, the UN General Assembly voted 123-16, with 51 abstentions, to support a resolution condemning North Korean human rights violations ranging from public executions to restrictions on freedom of expression, religion and assembly. The body urged North Korea "to immediately put an end to the systematic, widespread and grave violations." The vote on the resolution had been scheduled prior to the announcement of Kim Jong-il's death.

Possible power struggle

"Everyone fears that there may be a power struggle that's going to involve the neighbours," foreign affairs analyst Eric Margolis told CBC News.

"[Kim Jong-un] has been a non-entity up until now.... [He] will likely emerge as a figurehead behind different competing factions."

Gordon Chang, author of Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World, suggested in an interview with CBC News that Kim Jong-un’s inexperience could present difficulties.

“He’s only had on-the-job training for about two years,” he said. “Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea, spent two decades getting Kim Jong-il ready to take on the throne. Kim Jong-il only spent two years for Kim Jong-un, who is not ready. This is going to be a real problem.

“Kim Jong-un hasn’t had the time to develop the network, and the friendships and the knowledge about how to keep all of these various groups inside the regime happy. Kim Jong-il, his dad, was very good at that.”

CBC's Anthony Germain, a former correspondent in Beijing, said Kim's death will be a test of stability for a regime that has long been supported by China.

"This is really going to turn into a medieval power struggle with a son who nobody expected to be the successor in this bizarre 'everybody worship the one man' kind of state," he said.

"We're going to see a medieval kind of struggle behind the scenes with brothers and cousins and uncles fighting to jockey to try and get their guy in to be the leader."

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