Wen says North succession plan is ‘rumor’: Carter

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Wen says North succession plan is ‘rumor’: Carter

North Korea’s top leader told China that the speculation about his youngest son succeeding him is a “false rumor,” according to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter who was in Beijing last week.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao “surprised us by quoting the DPRK leader regarding the prospective promotion of his son, Kim Jong-un, as ‘a false rumor from the West,’” the former president said in a Carter Center Web posting dated Sept. 13. DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

“We’ll just have to wait to learn the truth about the succession in power,” Carter wrote.

North Korea’s top leader Kim Jong-il visited China, his country’s staunchest ally, last month. The trip by the reclusive leader, his second in less than a year, was seen as an effort to introduce his third and youngest son to China and to get its blessing to name him heir apparent.

Kim Jong-il traveled to Beijing when Carter was visiting Pyongyang on a private mission to secure the release of a U.S. citizen held for illegal entry since January. Carter said in an essay published in The New York Times that he was told at the last moment that Kim would not be available to meet him.

The anticipated power transition in the communist nation has drawn much attention since Kim Jong-il was reported to have suffered a stroke in 2008, triggering concerns about the stability of the reclusive regime.

Kim’s son was expected to make his official debut as the heir at a meeting of the Workers’ Party delegates in Pyongyang, announced to take place early this month. But the meeting appeared to have been postponed with no signs of the event occurring well into mid-Septemper. Neither Pyongyang nor state media has given any explanation.

A larger assembly in 1980 formalized Kim Jong-il as successor to his father and North Korea founder Kim Il-sung.

Some South Korean experts on North Korea said that there may be disapproval within North Korea of Kim Jong-un as successor, as he is still in his twenties and lacks any political background.

The United States is clueless as to the state of the succession, top officials said.

“In fundamental ways, North Korea is still a black box,” said Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, before a Senate panel Thursday (Washington time). “We have some glimpses and some intelligence and the like, but the truth is - oftentimes in retrospect - some of that intelligence has proven to be wrong,”

He called North Korea a “very, very hard target, probably the hardest target we face in the global arena.”

However, the State Department official declined to speculate on the succession issue when asked by Senator John McCain whether Kim’s youngest son would succeed him.

Campbell answered: “Your guess is as good as mine, Senator.”

McCain replied that it was an “interesting comment on the intelligence capability in North Korea.”

During the hearing, Wallace Gregson, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said there were two motives for North Korea’ sinking of the South Korean naval warship Cheonan in March (which the North denies). The first was “mysterious” succession politics, and the second was retaliation for a naval clash between the two Koreas last year. Campbell added that it could also be connected to the upcoming G-20 Summit in Seoul, which he called “probably the biggest deal in their history.”

By Christine Kim, Yonhap [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]
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