US, Japan Call for Peaceful Transition in North Korea

Posted December 19th, 2011 at 3:30 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Pacific powers have been in close consultation following the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il amid concern for the wellbeing of the reclusive nation's people.

Clinton spoke following talks in Washington Monday with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba. She said their two countries share a common interest in a stable and peaceful transition of power in Pyongyang.

Clinton said both governments have been in close touch with other participants in the six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear programs, including China, Russia and South Korea. She said President Barack Obama has already spoken with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

She said she and Gemba reiterated their hope for improved relations with the North Korean people.

A White House statement earlier said Mr. Obama, in his talks with Mr. Lee, had reaffirmed Washington's strong commitment to “the security of our close ally, the Republic of Korea.” The statement said the leaders agreed to continue close coordination between their respective national security teams.

In Seoul, President Lee canceled all of his scheduled events, convened a National Security Council meeting and placed the South Korean military on emergency alert. South Korean media say aerial surveillance near the North Korean border has been stepped up.

China, North Korea's closest ally, offered condolences to the North Korean public, while Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda convened a meeting of senior advisors to formulate a response to the North Korean leader's death.

The two Koreas remain technically at war since their three-year conflict ended in 1953.

In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Mr. Kim's death could be a turning point for North Korea. He also said Pyongyang's engagement with the international community offers the North its best hope for improving the lives of ordinary North Koreans.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France is wary about the consequences of a power transfer in the secretive communist state. He voiced hope that North Korean citizens will gain expanded freedoms in the future.