London/Washington: 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 reengage 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
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
In a statement, the White House said it was "closely
monitoring" the situation in a nation with a history of
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
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
First Published: Monday, December 19, 2011, 17:58