SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday raised the possibility of a power struggle in North Korea, saying that made it more urgent to find a way to end the secretive state’s nuclear weapons programme.
Speaking to reporters as she flew to South Korea, Clinton said “the whole leadership situation is somewhat unclear” in North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong-il is widely believed to have suffered a stroke last August.
“If there is a succession, even if it is a peaceful succession ... that creates more uncertainty and it also may encourage behaviours that are even more provocative as a way to consolidate power within the society,” she said.
Speculation has been rife over who might eventually replace the communist world’s first dynastic leader. Much of the attention has focussed on whether the leadership might pass to one of his sons, his brother-in-law, or a ruling group made up of his top aides.
While Kim’s father openly groomed him for years as successor, he has given no hint as to who might take over from him.
Clinton arrived in Seoul on the third stop of her Asia tour following weeks of increasingly angry rhetoric by the North and reports it may be preparing to test a long-range missile that, in theory, could reach Alaska.
South Korea’s government is “confronting a lot of worries about what’s up in North Korea, what the succession could be,” she said.
“They are looking to us to use our best efforts to try to get the agenda of denuclearisation and non-proliferation back in gear,” she added.
Talks among regional powers to try to push North Korea into giving up its attempts to build a nuclear arsenal, in exchange for an end to its pariah status and massive aid, have largely ground to a halt.
At the same time, North Korea has increased its sabre-rattling. On Thursday, it accused the United States of planning a nuclear attack and said it was ready for war with South Korea.
A number of analysts said it is trying to force the new U.S. administration to pay it more attention and also pressure the government in the South to end its hardline policy of holding back what used to be a free flow of aid until Pyongyang moves on giving up its nuclear weapons programme.
“Our goal is to try to come up with a strategy that ... is effective in influencing the behaviour of the North Koreans at a time when the whole leadership situation is somewhat unclear,” Clinton said.
Iron ruler Kim Jong-il was long out of public view after his reported illness. But in recent weeks, North Korean media has published photographs of the communist world’s first dynastic leader in apparent good health.
Reporting by Arshad Mohammed, writing by Jonathan Thatcher; Editing by Bill Tarrant