After execution, U.S. calls Jong-un ‘ominous,’ ‘insecure’

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After execution, U.S. calls Jong-un ‘ominous,’ ‘insecure’

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Soldiers of the North Korean People’s Army are mobilized to take a loyalty oath to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun square yesterday, a day before the second anniversary of the death of his father, former leader Kim Jong-il. [NEWS1]

The brutal execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle Jang Song-thaek has triggered a harsh reaction from Washington, and Secretary of State John Kerry even compared Kim to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

In an interview that aired Sunday, Kerry told ABC News the executions were an “ominous sign” of the regime’s instability.

The execution, Kerry said, “really reminded me of a video that we saw of Saddam Hussein doing the same thing, having people plucked out of an audience and people sitting there sweating and nobody daring to move or do anything.”

“This is the nature of this ruthless, horrendous dictatorship,” he said, adding that the purge is indicative of Kim Jong-un’s “insecurities.”

Jang, once regarded as the second-most powerful figure in the country, was executed last Thursday after he was convicted of treason and “anti-party, anti-revolutionary factional activities.”

The execution was made public Friday. He and his wife Kim Kyong-hui, sister of former leader Kim Jong-il, had served as the guardians and mentors of Kim Jong-un.

“The insights that we have tell us that he is spontaneous, erratic, still worried about his place in the power structure,” Kerry said. Kim would “eliminate any potential kind of adversary or competitor and does so obviously ruthlessly,” he said.

Kerry said it was urgent for China, Russia, Japan and South Korea to “stay on the same page” as Washington and that it is “unacceptable” for nuclear weapons to be “in the hands of somebody like Kim Jong-un.”

Saddam Hussein was executed in December 2006 after being convicted of crimes against humanity by the former Iraqi Special Tribunal.

A Washington source told the JoongAng Ilbo, “Secretary of State Kerry’s remarks evoking Hussein’s name were unusually strong. It appears that U.S. policy on North Korea might be getting a notch tougher.”

Senator John McCain echoed similar concerns in a CNN interview the same day, saying the execution shows that the young North Korea leader is “dangerous.” The North’s “very aberrational behavior,” he said, “must be a huge embarrassment for China.”

Jang was previously considered a liaison between the Pyongyang and Beijing regimes, particularly on economic issues.

“They’ve got to rein this young man in, and they can,” McCain said.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Friday that the execution of Jang “is another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime” and its dire human rights record.

She added that Washington will “increase our discussions with our allies and partners in the region about the internal situation in North Korea.”

“The U.S is taking a wait-and-see approach,” said Leif-Eric Easley, an East Asia security and U.S. foreign policy expert at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

“I think the U.S. is remaining consistent in its position and its support of South Korea’s position and its prioritization in coordinating with South Korea, Japan and other partners in dealing with North Korea.

“But I think that a lot of eyes are on Beijing to see how they respond to the Jang Song-thaek developments.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Kerry talked over phone about the North Korea situation Sunday, though details of the conversation were not revealed. Jang’s execution is expected to have been discussed, along with the status of the six-party talks among the Koreas, the United States China, Japan and Russia, stalled since late 2008.

Wang said at a diplomacy and security forum in Beijing yesterday that “an important change is taking place in the situation of North Korea.”

Wang said China is analyzing the situation in Pyongyang and added that Beijing has been in communication with the United States, Russia and other relevant nations regarding North Korea recently.

He added that Beijing continues to “support stability of the country and economic development in North Korea” and pushed for a resumption of the six-party talks.

Meanwhile, former NBA star Dennis Rodman said he is heading back to North Korea on Thursday for a five-day trip to train the national basketball team. He is also organizing an exhibition game in Pyongyang early next month to celebrate Kim’s birthday on Jan. 8.

He told AP, “I’m going to be the most famous person in the world when you see American people holding hands and hoping the doors can be opened.”

Rodman is the highest-profile American to meet Kim since he ascended to power in 2011, and claims to be close friends with him.


BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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