News / Asia

    Obama Closely Monitoring North Korea Situation

    White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (file photo)
    White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (file photo)

    U.S. President Barack Obama, his advisers and other officials in his administration are closely monitoring the situation in North Korea, following the death of the country's leader Kim Jong Il.

    Press Secretary Jay Carney responded to at least seven questions from reporters about North Korea on Monday, including what the president has been doing to follow the situation and what consultations he has had about it.

    Carney said that after hearing late Sunday from his chief of staff about Kim's death, President Obama telephoned South Korea's President Lee Myung Bak.

    Mr. Obama has received regular briefings.  Carney noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other officials have been in touch with their counterparts in South Korea, and with officials in Russia, China and Japan - the other members of the stalled six-party talks with North Korea.

    Carney said there are no additional concerns about the nuclear security situation on the Korean peninsula in the aftermath of Kim Jong Il's death, adding that Washington will continue to press Pyongyang to meet its international obligations.

    Carney had this response when asked whether the political transition underway in Pyongyang posed greater instability or a new diplomatic opening.

    "I think it is much too early to make any kind of judgment like that.  This is a period where North Korea is in a period of national mourning and we hope that the new North Korean leadership will take the steps necessary to support peace, prosperity and a better future for the North Korean people - including as I say acting on its commitments to de-nuclearization," Carney said.

    Saying that U.S. concerns about North Korea are not about personalities but about "the actions of the government," Carney added that it would be premature to make assessments of North Korea's new leadership or the chance of resuming the six-party talks.

    Reporters pressed the president's spokesman on the status of what news reports say was an expected U.S. announcement of food aid to North Korea after months of intense negotiations with Pyongyang.  Carney declined to confirm reports that Washington was on the verge of announcing a food aid deal with Pyongyang.  The United States, he said, continues to insist on adequate monitoring to ensure that aid is not diverted from those in need in North Korea.

    The State Department says consultations on the food aid issue have been postponed because of Kim Jong Il's death, adding that no decision on the subject has been made.

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