Clinton urges 'stable transition' in North Korea

North Korean state television has showed Kim Jong Il laid out in an open coffin today.

Clinton urges 'stable transition' in North Korea

North Korean state television has showed Kim Jong Il laid out in an open coffin today.

State media reported earlier that Kim Jong Un and other senior officials paid their respects to Kim in a "solemn ceremony''.

Kim’s body was covered with a red blanket and his head lay on a white pillow.

The coffin was surrounded by flowers, while two guards looked over his body. A giant red curtain covered a wall behind Kim. Senior officials were shown lining up to pay their respects, one woman apparently wiping tears from her eyes.

The Obama administration has called for a peaceful and stable leadership transition in North Korea, but made few demands on a nuclear-armed nation known for its unpredictability, poverty and hostility to the United States.

Prospects for new nuclear disarmament talks involving North Korea and the United States appeared to dim with the unexpectedly sudden death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and uncertainty surrounding the planned succession to his politically untested son.

Top Obama administration national security officials are focusing intelligence and other assets on the opaque internal politics of the reclusive communist nation that George Bush once placed on an “axis of evil” enemies list.

Barack Obama conferred by phone with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to underscore the US commitment to Japan and other close allies, the White House said, and also conveyed the importance he placed on stability in the region.

Mr Obama also spoke to South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, and the administration also contacted officials in China and Russia following the news of Kim’s death, the White House said.

“We are deeply concerned with the well-being of the North Korean people and our thoughts and prayers are with them during these difficult times,” US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said.

“It is our hope that the new leadership of the DPRK will choose to guide their nation on to the path of peace by honouring North Korea’s commitments, improving relations with its neighbours, and respecting the rights of its people.”

Mrs Clinton had met Japanese foreign minister Koichiro Gemba earlier and told reporters that Japan and the US hoped for better relations with North Korea.

“We both share a common interest in a peaceful and stable transition in North Korea as well as ensuring regional peace and stability,” she said.

Mrs Clinton did not say how Kim’s death would affect the US approach to his country, nor did she make any demands on the new leadership, passing up the opportunity to reiterate long-standing US calls for North Korea to follow through on previous nuclear disarmament pledges.

The omission of what has been a standard element of any US officials’ comments on North Korea appeared to underscore Washington’s concern about the situation.

The State Department later said it still was the US view that North Korea make good on those commitments. But the department said Kim’s passing and assumption of power of his son, Kim Jong Un, would delay anticipated developments on resuming nuclear disarmament talks with the North and supplying the nation with food aid.

The United States had been quietly pursuing a new diplomatic opening with North Korea, including hopes for new nuclear talks as soon as next week. That opening now appears on hold, while US officials warily assess whether Kim Jong Un can seize his father’s mantle.

Meanwhile President Hu Jintao visited North Korea’s embassy in Beijing today to offer his condolences as China moved swiftly to assure its communist ally of its strong support amid an uncertain leadership transition.

Surrounded by scores of security officers, Mr Hu made an early morning trip to the sprawling complex in eastern Beijing’s leafy Jianguomenwai diplomatic district, where the North Korean flag was flying at half-mast. The official Xinhua News Agency reported the visit but offered no other details.

That followed a meeting yesterday between Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi and the embassy’s second highest-ranking official, charge d’affaires Pak Myong Ho, Xinhua said.

Mr Yang told Mr Pak that “comrade Kim Jong Il was a great party and state leader”, Xinhua said.

“The Chinese government and people were deeply saddened by the demise of ’close friend’ Kim Jong Il, who would be remembered forever by the Chinese people,” Mr Yang said.

The Cuban government decreed three days of mourning for Kim.

An official statement read on Cuban state television also said the communist government had ordered Cuban flags to be flown at half-mast at public buildings and military installations.

The leftist governments of Venezuela and Nicaragua have also expressed condolences for Kim’s death.

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