U.S. sees 'more of the same' from new N.Korea leader

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 28, 2012 5:54 PM
U.S. sees 'more of the same' from new N.Korea leader

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New North Korean leader Kim Jung-un looks unlikely to depart from the nuclear brinkmanship, threats to his region and repression of his father and grandfather, the top U.S. military commander for the Asia-Pacific region said on Tuesday.

"He's a Kim, and he's surrounded by an uncle and Kim Jong-il's sister and others that I think are guiding his actions," said Admiral Robert Willard, head of U.S. Pacific Command.

"So in that sense, we would expect ... more of the same. The strategy has been successful through two generations," he told a U.S. Senate Armed services Committee hearing in Washington.

"It wouldn't surprise us to see an effort to make the strategy work for a third," added Willard.

The Hawaii-based admiral described the hereditary Kim strategy as one that "embraces nuclearization, missile development, WMD proliferation, provocations and totalitarian control over North Korean society."

Kim Jong-un, 29, is the son of the former leader Kim Jong-il, who died suddenly in December having built a state with nuclear weapons capacity and presided over a famine that killed millions of North Koreans in the 1990s.

In the communist world's first hereditary succession, Kim Jong-il took over the impoverished country of 23 million people when his father, state founder Kim Il-sung, died in 1994.

"We're observing closely for signs of instability or evidence that the leadership transition is faltering," said Willard.

"We believe Kim Jong-un to be tightly surrounded by (Kim Jong-il) associates, and for the time being the succession appears to be on course," he added.

Willard's testimony comes after North Korea threatened on Saturday to wage a "sacred war" in response to joint military exercises planned by South Korea and the United States.

The sabre-rattling by North Korea followed talks with the United States last week on its nuclear program and food aid, the first under Kim Jong-un. Willard said cooperation with North Korea to recover the remains of U.S. soldiers missing since the 1950-53 Korean War was set to resume soon.

Kim Jong-un, as "a young man and relatively untested," could be open to "those around him may have some differences of opinion regarding the direction that North Korea heads" and the influence of China, said Willard.

(Reporting By Paul Eckert)