Succession Could be Turning Point for N Korea: West

Succession Could be Turning Point for N Korea: West
US and Western leaders, caught by surprise by the announcement of the sudden death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, have said that the takeover by his son could be a "turning point" for the isolated nation to re-engage with the international community.

"This could be a turning point for North Korea," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said as he urged the new leader to recognize that engagement with the international community offers the best prospect for his nation, BBC reported.

Also sounding warily optimist, the French Foreign Minister Alan Juppe hoped that the new leadership would bring in "new freedom" for North Korea.

But US leaders watched the developments unfolding in a nation pursuing nuclear weapons with caution, as the White House said that President Barack Obama has been informed of the developments.

In a statement, the White House said it was "closely monitoring" the situation in a nation with a history of belligerence.

Obama called his close friend President Lee Myung-Bak of South Korea at midnight and later a spokesman said: "The president reaffirmed the US' strong commitment to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and the security of our close ally, the Republic of Korea".

"The two leaders agreed to direct their national security teams to continue close coordination," the White House said.

Though Obama made no direct comments on the development in Pyongyang, US officials looked for signs of instability in the succession.

South Korea, wary of an untested Kim Jong-un, Kim's 20-something son, put its military on high-alert against the North's 1.2 million- strong armed forces.

North Korea's closest ally China expressed shock at the death of the North Korean leader as sources said that Beijing was in efforts to shore up its isolated neighbour.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman pledged to help maintain "peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula" and said North Koreans would remain united after their leader's death.

Analysts said that Beijing would certainly want to avoid any kind of meltdown in North Korea as it would lead to destabilization on its border.

North Korea's second estranged neighbour Japan called an emergency security meeting to formulate its reaction to news of the death of Kim Jong-Il.

Minutes after the noon broadcast by Pyongyang's official media, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda cancelled a speech and rushed back to his office where he held a meeting of senior ministers.

He said he had ordered officials to beef up intelligence gathering on North Korea, to work closely with the US, China and South Korea, and to prepare for further unexpected developments.
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