Former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson says although there has been some recent thawing in relations between isolationist North Korea and the United States and its allies, the death of Kim Jong Il leads to “uncertainty” over the communist nation’s direction, which is ultimately dangerous.
Richardson, who visited the reclusive nation several times — most recently a year ago — also said on CNN Monday the critical question is whether the military will accept Kim’s son as his successor.
“The uncertainty with the death of Kim Jong Il — that’s the danger,” Richardson, who also served as New Mexico’s governor, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “What happens next? My view is that, there’s a succession that’s going on, and the issue is going to be: How will the succession be viewed by the key players there — and you know who they are — it’s the North Korean military.”
Richardson said he does not think there will be a problem with the populace accepting Kim Jung Un — his father’s chosen successor — as North Korea’s new leader, because “they are schooled in the cult of personality.” But the military is an entirely different issue because of Un’s lack of international experience and he the fact that he is under 30 years old.
“He didn’t serve in the military — We know very little about him,” Richardson said. “We do know that he went to a western school in Switzerland, that he may speak some languages — that’s good. But the issue is going to be, he won’t have the same power as his father, Kim Jong Il.
“I think you’re going to see some of the military, the military commanders, some of the senior civilian leadership, not just help him out with leadership, but you will see them playing a stronger role — certainly, with a son so untested right now,” he said.
Richardson noted that at this time it is best for the United States to take a wait-and-see attitude and not do anything to provoke the North Koreans during the sensitive transition period.
“I think we need to let them handle their succession, not provoke them — talk about engaging them. I’ve always felt, as you know, that it’s better to bring them in to talk to them — dialogue, engagement — rather than isolate them,” he said. “When you isolate them, they even become more unpredictable, more irrational. I think talking to them, continuing the six-party talks objective, which we don’t have yet, [and] giving them food aid.
“I mean, people are starving there — you were there — you saw all those poor people that are in very, very bad shape on a humanitarian basis. I think the international community can be helpful and moderate them.” Richardson said. “Move them in the right direction — move them towards engagement.”
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