By Cheryl Pellerin and Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2011 – U.S. officials are carefully watching the situation on the Korean Peninsula in the wake of news that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il has died.
Kim died Saturday of a massive heart attack, according to a North Korean government release. Kim Jong-eun, the “Dear Leader’s” youngest son, is expected to replace him.
President Barack Obama consulted with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak last night. They discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula following the death of Kim Jong-il, according to a White House read-out of the call.
“The president reaffirmed the United States’ strong commitment to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and the security of our close ally, the Republic of Korea,” according to the read out. “The two leaders agreed to stay in close touch as the situation develops and agreed they would direct their national security teams to continue close coordination.”
U.S. leaders have been in constant contact with South Korean and Japanese allies since Kim’s death was announced, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters traveling with him in Germany that the allies have not seen any change “in North Korean behavior of a nature that would alarm us.”
Speaking broadly, the general said he is concerned about the transition, but there have been no changes to the alert readiness for U.S. forces on the peninsula. South Korean officials announced their armed forces are on a higher level of alert.
U.S. and South Korean leaders quickly established a network “to discuss this issue and to determine what we could do to contribute to understanding what might happen next,” Dempsey said.
“It is my expectation … that he will be the successor,” the chairman said. “We’ve gone to significant effort to understand, and I would only say at this point that he is young to be put in this position and we will have to see if it, in fact, is him and how he reacts to the burden of governance that he hasn’t had to deal with before.”
Kim Jong-il took over from his father Kim Il-sung in 1994. It was the first case of a son taking over for a father in a communist nation. In 2010, he announced his youngest son would succeed him.
North Korea has developed nuclear weapons and missile technology, U.S. officials have said. It is a pariah among nations in that it has actively sought to export nuclear and missile technology even as up to a million North Koreans are believed to have starved to death.