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(News Focus) Nuclear diplomacy on N. Korea put on hold after Kim's death: analysts
By Kim Deok-hyun
SEOUL, Dec. 19 (Yonhap) -- The chances of North Korea abandoning its nuclear weapons program appear more remote than ever after the sudden death of its leader as it is likely to become more insular until heir-apparent Kim Jong-un assumes firm control of the communist regime, analysts said Monday.

   North Korea's 69-year-old leader Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack on Saturday while on board his train, Pyongyang's state media reported earlier in the day, bringing an end to his 17-year rule since he took power after the 1994 death of his father.

   The surprise death of the older Kim comes at a time when regional powers were gearing up diplomatic efforts to reopen the stalled six-nation talks on ending the North's nuclear weapons program in return for economic aid.

   This week, U.S. and North Korean officials were scheduled to hold a third round of bilateral meetings that had been widely expected to produce a breakthrough and bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.

   "I think it will be difficult for regional powers to resume the six-party talks for the time being," said Hong Hyun-ik, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute, a security think tank in Seoul.

   "For the North Korean government, the most important task is to manage its internal situation after the death of Kim," Hong said.


Cha Doo-hyeon, an analyst from the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, echoed that view, saying the reclusive North Korea could halt dialogue with the outside world until early next year.

   The North's state media said Pyongyang will not accept foreign delegations to express their condolences, despite a funeral for the elder Kim to be held on Dec. 28.

   That rejection of foreign delegations indicated the control of Kim's youngest son, Jong-un, might not be solid yet, although the political apparatus surrounding him could allow him to survive the demise of his father, Cha said.

   The six-party talks have been dormant since April 2009, when the North quit the negotiating table and then conducted its second nuclear test a month later.

   South Korea and the U.S. have demanded that Pyongyang halt its uranium enrichment activity and take other steps to show it is serious about giving up its nuclear programs before any resumption of the six-party talks. Pyongyang, in contrast, has called for restarting the talks without any preconditions.

   A cautious diplomatic jostling has been underway since earlier this year to revive the broader talks. Seoul and Washington have each held two rounds of one-on-one negotiations with North Korea to get the communist nation to take concrete steps to demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization.

   Last week, North Korea and the U.S. held secretive bilateral talks in which Pyongyang reportedly agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment in return for Washington's resumption of food aid.

   Some analysts said the six-party talks won't be doomed if regional powers can better manage the situation, citing a case in 1994.

   The North's founder Kim Il-sung died in July, 1994, when the U.S. and North Korea were scheduled to hold a high-level meeting in Geneva. Three months later, the two sides resumed bilateral talks and reached an agreement on a nuclear issue.

   "North Korea is likely to push for resuming the six-party talks to calm its internal disquiet while cementing its new leadership," said Yoon Deok-min, a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, a research organization affiliated with Seoul's foreign ministry.

   "If so, it cannot be ruled out that a resumption of the six-party talks may take place sooner than expected," Yoon said.