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(LEAD) N. Korea to return to negotiations with anointment of Kim's successor: official

All Headlines 06:53 June 03, 2009

(ATTN: ADDS scholar's remarks in paras 7-8)
By Hwang Doo-hyong

WASHINGTON, June 2 (Yonhap) -- North Korea may halt provocations and resume negotiations with the United States on its nuclear and missile programs since North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has completed the process to anoint his third son as his successor, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday.

"My guess is that the North Koreans are likely to come back to the bargaining table, especially now that it appears that the succession has been secured," said the official, asking not to be named.

The remarks come amid reports that Kim Jong-il recently issued orders to North Korean officials and diplomats abroad to pledge loyalty to Kim Jong-un, 26, in an attempt to consolidate a third-generation dynastic power transition in the isolated communist state. The order was issued soon after the North's nuclear test late last month.

Kim Jong-il had long made it a taboo to discuss his heir apparent, but he changed his mind after apparently having suffered a stroke and undergone surgery last summer.

Chang Song-thaek, Kim's brother-in-law, who was recently appointed to the all-powerful National Defense Commission, is said to be playing the role of regent in a smooth power transition.

Kim Jong-il had consolidated power for two decades in various party and government posts until the death in 1994 of his father, Kim Il-sung, North Korea's founding father.

Opinions vary on the chances of a successful power transition, with some observers skeptical due to a lack of time for consolidation of power, while others forecast the emergence of a collective leadership surrounding the third and youngest son.

"There is growing evidence that a managed succession is under way in Pyongyang. But there also is no guarantee that the chosen successor will actually become the supreme leader or last for very long," said Paul B. Stares, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The succession process could still play out over many years, however, with much depending on the health of Kim Jong-il."

North Korea last week conducted its second nuclear test in three years, fired several short-range missiles and threatened to boycott the six-party talks unless the U.N. Security Council apologizes for its condemnation of North Korea's April 5 rocket launch.

Pyongyang also threatened to nullify the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War and shun any dialogue with the U.S. due to what it calls hostile policy, heightening tensions on the Korean Peninsula to the highest level since the war.

The North's recent provocations aim to "kill the six-party talks and return to a bilateral U.S.-North Korea arms control process and secure recognition as its status as a nuclear weapons state," the official told a forum here.

The six-party talks on ending the North's nuclear weapons programs had already been deadlocked since December over Pyongyang's refusal to agree to a verification protocol on its nuclear activity.

The multilateral talks have been on and off since their inception in 2003 as a replacement for the Bush administration to bilateral negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington under the Bill Clinton administration.

Then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and North Korean Marshal Jo Mong-rok made exchange visits to their respective capitals in the waning months of Clinton's tenure in late 2000.

Former President Clinton did not honor his pledge to visit Pyongyang to conclude bilateral talks on the North's nuclear and missile programs, which he recently said he regrets.

The anonymous official reaffirmed the Barack Obama administration's policy goal of "complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

"The goal of the United States has not changed," he said. "Our goal is that we will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state."

The official said he expects China and Russia to join forces with the U.S. in adopting a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an "arms embargo and financial sanctions" on North Korea for its nuclear test.

"Even Russia and China, which in the past have been extremely reluctant to apply pressure to North Korea, now recognize that the North Koreans have gone too far," he said.

China and Russia thwarted efforts by the U.S. and its allies in April to adopt a legally binding resolution to sanction North Korea for its rocket launch on April 5.

In a rare move, North Korea has depicted China and Russia as "forces flattering the U.S." and denounced them for supporting the council's adoption of a presidential statement calling for tougher sanctions on three North Korean firms for the launch, which Pyongyang insists was to orbit a satellite.

A U.S-written draft resolution, under review by the 15-member security council, calls for financial sanctions on North Korea and bars the North from all weapons trade.

Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey flew to Seoul earlier in the day as a member of a U.S. delegation to Asian capitals, led by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, to discuss financial sanctions against North Korea.

It is not clear at the moment whether China, a veto power and North Korea's staunchest communist ally, will approve the kind of financial sanctions that almost paralyzed North Korea's overseas financial transactions in 2005 when the U.S. froze tens of millions of dollars in North Korean assets in Macau's Banco Delta Asia.

The unidentified Obama administration official, however, was still optimistic that a carrot-and-stick approach will work in dealing with North Korea.

"We have to operate on the basis of an assumption that if we apply the proper mixture of pressure and incentives, the North Koreans will behave rationally, de-escalate and return to negotiations," he said.

hdh@yna.co.kr
(END)

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