News / Asia

US Calls for North Korean Restraint

Kurt Campbell, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, top center, speaks to the media after meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan in Seoul, South Korea, January 5, 2012.
Kurt Campbell, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, top center, speaks to the media after meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan in Seoul, South Korea, January 5, 2012.

Just weeks after North Korea announced the death of its leader, Kim Jong Il, diplomatic activity has resumed on how to engage Pyongyang. A high-level American diplomat is holding talks this week in Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo. And, South Korea's president is set to discuss North Korea during a state visit to China's capital next week.

Diplomats in Seoul acknowledge there is a dearth of information about what is really going on in Pyongyang, amid the leadership transition.

During this time of uncertainty, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell says all elements of the U.S. government, including the military and national security advisors, are on the same page and in constant touch with Washington's allies in the region.

"We are continuously monitoring the situation, regularly sharing perspectives and assessments, consulting closely and actively coordinating our responses," said Campbell.

The United States is hoping China, considered the country most able to exert any influence on Pyongyang, will make clear to the new North Korean leadership what Campbell calls "the importance of restraint.”

Among those Campbell met with Thursday was South Korean Foreign Minister, Kim Sung-hwan.

Kim told reporters that Seoul is ready to resume one-on-one talks with Pyongyang, but it is up to North Korea to initiate such talks.

However, Kim says it is unclear after Kim Jong Il's death who is actually running North Korea. He notes that Kim Jong Un, the third son of the deceased leader, has been bestowed a number of titles, such as supreme commander of the military and vice chairman of the country's only political party. But, the South Korean foreign minister adds it is not known whether Kim - who is under 30 years of age - is now also the actual head of government.

North Korea has given no early indication it is ready to re-engage with the South after announcing Kim Jong Il's death last month.

Recent comments in the state-controlled newspapers have declared Pyongyang will never again deal with the administration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, ostensibly because - according to North Korea's media - he did not properly express condolences for its leader's demise.

But on Thursday, South Korea's foreign minister brushed off such rhetoric and said it should be ignored. He says North Korea does not seem to have decided yet on its posture in dealing with the outside world.

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