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CNN BREAKING NEWS
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il Dead
Aired December 18, 2011 - 22:08 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN CNN AMERICA & CNN-I SIMULCAST COVERAGE)
JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Will he actually be in control? Because there's always been some speculation that it will in fact be his uncle who may be calling the shots. Even though it is the son who is a figure head, it will be his older uncle who will essentially be the power behind the throne, if you like.
STAN GRANT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're right there, John. To identify the uncle is interesting, because he, of course, he's the husband of Kim Jong Il's sister and has occupied various senior positions within the military. And you are right. Has been identified as a figure lurking behind the scenes there who could potentially wield great power.
You're also right that Kim Jong Un did accompany his father on a trip to China, almost an introduction, if you like, to the Chinese leadership. And while that was the only trip, there have been regular meetings between the Chinese leadership, Chinese envoys who have been going back and forth into North Korea. So those lines of communication are not just one way. Obviously, they work two ways. And China has had a pretty direct line in there and has sent envoys back and forth there for some time as has the United States. The United States has had envoys going in there for discussions as well.
So, yes, they'd be aware of him. They'd be aware of the situation. And to the extent that the Chinese were able to manage an orderly transition, that certainly had some plans or contingencies in place.
The difficulty here is the unpredictability. And while we point to the relationship between North Korea and China as being a profound one and a profoundly close one, we do know that North Korea has angered China in the past with some of its belligerence and its behavior, had taken China by surprise.
I remember many years ago when I was reporting here for the beginning of the six-party talks. And remember when North Korea carried out a nuclear test right on the eve of Chinese New Year and the Chinese were said to be unaware of that. Something that was embarrassing. The fact that they didn't know about it. The fact that it came Chinese New Year as well, which is a period of celebration here. Was seen to have angered them. So there is the unpredictability.
The other thing is that we've been very quick in the West over the years to lampoon Kim Jong Il as almost a figure of fun and there he is with his massive media -- his massive movie library, rather. His love of ballroom dancing, the bouffant hairdo, the story of his birth under a star on a mountain in a shack almost sort of biblical birth that has been seen as being a myth when, in fact, he was more likely to have been born in the Soviet Union while his father was there.
VAUSE: Don't forget the 18 holes in one day on a golf trip.
GRANT: The world champion golfer. But while it's very easy to lampoon him, this is someone who was seen of successive leaders in the United States. Someone who has been able to negotiate and certainly accolades (ph) to negotiate for him at the highest level. North Korea has been given some grudging respect, if you like, for its ability to use the six-party talks to its advantage.
GRANT: Has always been able to give a little and then pull back at the last minute to keep that process -- keep that process going. So he's a very wily character. And when we look at any successor, who is going to bring the same charisma, the sense of leadership, the direct connection, of course, to his father who is the eternal president of North Korea and be able to negotiate that very precarious position that North Korea is in and still manage to survive.
With his demise, it raises all questions not just about succession but the potential survival of the regime itself without that figure head, without that character who for all of his eccentricity was seen to be a survivor and someone who could play one end off against the other.
VAUSE: He's always had this ability to play a very weak hand very well and what he has done though is that the Kim family business in North Korea is staying in power. And I think what we're now looking at here is, will that continue? Has there been enough time to establish Kim Jong Un? Because when Kim Jong Il was by his father's side -- have to be remembered that Kim Il Sung, his father, was much loved by North Koreans and because he had a very prosperous time when he was leading the country, because it was said to being bankrolled by the Soviet Union.
In the early days, North Korea was actually doing better than South Korea. The South Koreans used to look to the North with envy. It was only, you know, in the latter parts of, you know, the 1990s when Kim Jong Il actually took over and everything fell apart. The Soviet Union collapsed and they were no longer being bankrolled that the country fell into mass poverty. It had 2 million people dying from famine and you've had all the problems which have beset the country in the last 15, 20 years or so.
But this is a country with huge, huge problems. And right now, there are people starving in the countryside. They have a shortage of electricity. They are essentially working from an agrarian situation out in the countryside once you get away from Pyongyang. And so being able to keep that together and being able to make it a smooth transition without the unrest, without a challenge from the military generals who may now be thinking this is a good time to maybe launch some kind of grab for power, these are the uncertainties. And I think many people have questioned whether or not Kim Jong Un, just a young man -- we don't really even know his age. We think he's late 20s. Is he capable of doing this? And I think there are very serious doubts about that.
GRANT: Yes, there certainly are. It's interesting too, John, that you talk about the situation within the country. Once you move out of Pyongyang, which, of course, is a showcase capital and that's what people see when they are taken on those orchestrated visits. You do get out into a situation where you find people and these stories have been substantiated over the years of having to boil down back of trees just to be able to make something that might be edible.
I remember a few years ago when I was up on the border of North Korea and China. This is a very, very porous border. The river there you could almost hop across the rocks and get across the other side. It is that narrow.
What was really interesting was on the Chinese side you had a bustling border city, fully lit. On the other side, complete darkness. And the only light I could see was about 100 or 200 meters in the distance and it was a light illuminating a large portrait of Kim Jong Il.
The other really interesting thing was just on the North Korean side of that border. All of the grass, all of the tall grass was around six feet high. And I wondered why that -- why that was, until I saw rustling in the grass, it was like seeing stars at night. Once you see one, you see 100.
But it was bristling with North Korean soldiers who were all moving just below the height of that grass. There were foxholes set alongside the river there, all waiting for people who may make a dash across the other side.
I met a young woman who did manage to escape. She had actually been sold into a marriage up there. She had a liver problem and was dumped by her family because she just simply was no use to them. She couldn't bear children and she couldn't work in the fields. She managed to escape.
She managed to get on the other side where she was intercepted by kidnappers. They sold her into a marriage with a Chinese man. She managed to buy herself out of that marriage when the -- some of her relatives living on the Chinese side were able to intercede. But she did then spend her life living in perpetual fear in a one-bedroom flat unable to go anywhere for fear that she'd be picked up, sent across the border and executed.
That is the fear that so many people live with on that border area. And as you've identified, John, if there is to be a collapse of the regime inside, so many of those people are likely to make a run for that border, and that's going to be a problem for China.
The last thing China wants, the last thing China likes is any form of unpredictability, anything outside of their control. And the prospect of masses of North Koreans heading across that very, very narrow river into the Chinese side of the border is really a potential disaster along that area. How China reacts to that, of course, is going to be absolutely critical.
And Kim Jong Un? You're right. What do we know about this man? At various stages, other sons have been put forward as potential successors and have fallen by the wayside. Kim Jong Un, according to some reports, had had some education in Europe, in Switzerland. He's been, as you say, introduced over the past couple of years alongside his father.
But it certainly isn't the apprenticeship that Kim Jong Il enjoyed. Kim Jong Il was first anointed back in 1980. He then started to occupy various positions within the military leadership. And, of course, had served his father with his father's death in 1994.
Intriguing, though, even his presidency was -- his leadership -- he wasn't president.
GRANT: His leadership was a leadership with training wheels. His father was the eternal president. Even --
VAUSE: His father remains president today.
GRANT: His father remains president. Still remains president today in death.
So, as you move down the line of succession, you move on to another man. Less equipped. Certainly younger. We know very little of him and he's going to come in and try to impose a rule over some of these generals who have been occupying positions of power and who are directly descended or work right alongside not just Kim Jong Il but his much-loved father, Kim Il Sung.
VAUSE: Stan, stay with us. We have Elise live also on the line from the State Department. Before we get to Elise, we have a little more information here coming to us from North Korean state media about the actual cause of death. He suffered acute myocardial infraction complicated with a serious heart shock. He was on a train December 17th. It was apparently during a field guidance tour, so they say. Take that for what it's worth.
Every possible first aid measure was taken immediately but he passed away at 8:30 in the morning, December 17, local time, North Korea. An autopsy the following day confirmed the diagnosis of his diseases.
Elise Labott, our State Department senior producer, joins us on the line now. Elise, any word there, any reaction in the State Department? If none is coming at this hour, what will it be when it does come?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN SENIOR STATE DEPT. PRODUCER: Well, right now, John, as you can imagine, U.S. really trying to get its own independent confirmation. Obviously, not a whole lot of communication between the U.S. and North Korea. They do have some low level contacts but it's not as if the North Koreans -- the United States is on speed dial. They're going to be the first person that they call.
So I'm hearing from senior State Department officials. They are trying to independently confirm. We don't expect that the State Department or the White House will make any official reaction tonight. Obviously, over the next coming days, they are going to try to really fine tune, really calibrate the response at how they are going to react to not only the death of Kim Jong Il, who is, as we've been talking about, a very popular figure in the country and really a cult-like status, but also how they are going to embrace the new leader and what the pace and the process of this engagement is going to be.
The State Department, the Obama administration has been really careful to keep the lines of communication open with the administration, with the North Koreans.
VAUSE: Looks like we've lost Elise there on the line. We'll try and get her back because what I would like to find out now as far as the U.S. is concerned, and one question which I think many people may be asking is will the United States see the death of Kim Jong Il and the ascension of his son Kim Jong Un as a moment of opportunity to try and thaw out what is essentially a relationship which has been in the deep freeze for many, many years? Or will it be more of the same? Or how will this relationship now change?
Let's go back to Stan Grant, who I hope is still on the line with us in Beijing.
Stan, one question -- the other question, too, is, of course, the country which is most immediately affected by this will be South Korea. Could you confirm for us what their reaction has been because my understanding was always that if something like this was going to happen, in the eventuation of any kind of uncertainty about the regime in North Korea, the South Koreans automatically then go on a state of heightened military alert. Do we know if that has happened yet? Stan?
GRANT: Sorry, John. I just missed that question there. I think you were mentioning that whether South Korea goes on to a heightened military alert.
GRANT: I certainly can't confirm that. We've heard nothing directly out of them. Obviously, this is a situation that they have well prepared for. We know there is a big U.S. military presence and has been for decades now in South Korea.
So, obviously, that's got to be an implication there. I was on a battleship just last year after that skirmish between North Korea and South Korea up on the North Korean border when North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island. I was with the U.S. aircraft carrier carrying out exercises in that region.
What was really intriguing there, John, was just how much they were able to see into the North Korean side. If you looked on to their radars at the time it was scanning right across North Korea. They had full access to it and they could certainly see any military build-up on that side.
But, yes, North Korea and South Korea have this uneasy relationship. They've been tense over the years. They've tried the sunshine policy and others to try to broach some sort of rapprochement. That has come to nothing. And last year, of course, it came right to the brink when Yeonpyeong Island was attacked.
So, there's always a state of readiness in South Korea. The military is always on the alert in that area. Up on the demilitarized zone, both North Korean and South Korean armies are able to eyeball each other from propaganda broadcast on loud speakers across that area. And, indeed, there have been skirmishes there over the years as well.
So South Korea has lived in a state of heightened alert ever since the ceasefire of the Korean War. There is no declared peace. There is no peace treaty. And this situation, obviously, would continue now. Of course, it goes to a whole new level, John.
VAUSE: OK, Stan. And just to bring you up to date with some news we're getting from the Reuters News Agency. South Korea's military has been put on emergency alert following the report of Kim Jong Il's death.
We're also hearing from Yonhap by the AFP News Agency is that the funeral will be held on December 28th. And perhaps an indication of what is to come, Kim Jung Un, the heir apparent, has been named head of the funeral committee.
Wolf Blitzer was recently, as in a few months ago, I believe, in North Korea. Maybe it was a little longer than that.
Wolf, you can clarify that for us. We heard a little earlier from Elise Labott saying that the State Department still trying to get a handle on what to make of this news. How do you see it playing out, Wolf? Do you think they Americans will see this as a moment of opportunity or just more of the same?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they'll try to take advantage of it as a moment of opportunity. The problem is that no one really knows how the son is going to operate, how much influence he's going to have. Is he just going to be a figure head? Is he really going to have any power? He doesn't come with a whole lot of experience. He's young. Nobody even knows for sure how old he was. I was in North Korea in Pyongyang for six days last December, exactly a year ago right now. I went with a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson. And it was an extremely tense time when there was shelling and it was shortly after the North Koreans destroyed a South Korean warship and everyone was on high, high alert.
Fortunately, I believe the Richardson mission to North Korea calmed the situation down a bit and things got back to relatively stable situation, relatively normal for as far as North and South Korean relations are concerned. And U.S. relations with North Korea, they haven't really improved but they've stabilized to a certain degree.
When I was there, everyone knew that Kim Jong Il had been very ill and we knew he had a bunch of ailments. He really hadn't been seen a lot although he did make some appearances but they were grooming Kim Jong Un, his son, to be the successor. And at the time, everyone thought he was 27, 28, 29 years old. We weren't exactly sure how old he was. He had supposedly spent a year or two studying in Switzerland, spoke some English. But it's so secretive, the society, that that leadership, you know, we really don't know for sure. And everybody had their own speculation.
But as I say, it looks like -- it seems at least on the surface right now after this, to me, that they've made a pretty dramatic announcement. They have established that there's going to be a funeral. They've said that Kim Jong Un will be in charge of the funeral and presumably will be in charge of the regime, at least at the top leadership.
But there will be a circle of senior people who will be in charge of what's going on. It will be, John, I think, it's obvious, a period of tension on the Korean Peninsula. And whenever that level of tension increases, it's a source of concern for the world because there are still a million North Korean troops north of the DMZ, the demilitarized zone, nearly a million South Korean troops south, some 25,000 to 30,000 American troops right in the middle of all of that, John, just south of the DMZ.
And North Korea has its nuclear capability, as all of us know. So the Japanese, the South Koreans, China, everybody will be watching, Russia and, of course, the United States has a lot at stake in that part of the world as well. So get ready to be nervous at least for several days if not weeks or months.
VAUSE: Yes, absolutely.
We want to go now to Mike Chinoy who joins us on the line from Los Angeles. Mike Chinoy, a former senior Asia correspondent for CNN. He is currently a senior fellow with the U.S.-China Institute. Been to North Korea 15 times, as recently as August.
Mike, there are few people I can think of who know North Korea better than you. Just tell us what will happen in the next couple of days. OK, Mike, are you there? OK. We've got a few problems with Mike Chinoy. Who would have thought a phone connection to Los Angeles would have been a difficulty. We'll try and work that out right now.
Luckily, we still have Elise Labott on the line from the State Department. She joins us once again.
And Elise, Wolf was saying earlier this could be a moment of opportunity for the United States. One question, though, obviously, is the six-party nuclear talks now. All bets are off. They're going nowhere for the foreseeable future.
LABOTT: Well, I mean, and they were, John, actually showing some progress. I mean, the North Koreans met last month and actually in October in Geneva, nuclear envoys from Washington and Pyongyang, they met in July and they met in October. No breakthroughs but they were still anticipating a third round of talks. And even last week, Glen Davis, the U.S. negotiator for North Korea, the new negotiator taking over from Steven Bosworth, met in Pyongyang with North Korean officials about restarting some kind of food aid.
So the U.S. has really tried to make some opening in recent months, specifically for the reason that they knew that the succession was coming. They wanted to keep open lines of communication not just for the old leadership but for the new leadership that's coming.
They really don't know what to expect from Kim Jong Un. Could he be a more benevolent leader? Nobody knows as we've been saying. Could he be even more provocative, more unpredictable leader than his father? Nobody knows.
So they really wanted to keep their options open. And as we've been saying, it could be an opportunity. It could also be a dead end. And I think that's what the U.S. is really going to be looking at over the next couple of days to see how can they fine-tune their engagement, their outreach, how can they calibrate it so that they don't send the wrong messages at this very critical, very tenuous time -- John.
VAUSE: Elise, stay with us. I just want to recap. If people are joining us right now. Word coming to us from North Korea, from official state media inside North Korea that Kim Jong Il, the "Dear Leader," died of a massive heart attack on a train on Saturday. That's coming from North Korea's news agency.
An autopsy carried out the following day confirmed the cause of death. Still no word on who will take his place, but it has long been assumed that his son, the mysterious son Kim Jong Un will, in fact, take over. The first indication that that will be the case, I guess, is that he's been put in charge of a long list of officials who will make up the funeral committee, indicating that he will be in charge of that, that he will then eventually take over the country.
Elise, is there a cribs note at all, a cheat sheet if you like, on what we know about Kim Jong Un or is he just a complete mystery to everyone outside of North Korea?
LABOTT: I think he's a complete mystery. I mean, as we've been talking about, I guess, you know, there's some you can Google him and I think everybody has the same amount of information -- that he went to school in Switzerland, that he's been tutoring at his father's side, that he likes Nike basketball shoes. I mean, there are just very few morsels of information about him.
And we do know that he's been given all these new titles. He's been showing some more -- some more, I want to use the word leadership very carefully because we don't really know if he's actually making decisions, but he has been purported to be in a much more senior position than he has been since the quote/unquote succession plan has been announced -- John.
VAUSE: Do we still have Wolf Blitzer with us or is he gone?
BLITZER: I'm here.
VAUSE: Wolf, I want to get back to you because you actually were in North Korea, as you say, pretty much a year ago now. When you were there, we all knew that Kim Jong Il was in bad health. He had suffered a stroke. He lost a lot of weight. He wasn't looking particularly healthy. Was there any indication to you of tensions amongst the officials that they were making this transition ready? I mean just simple physical signs of even putting up posters of Kim Jong Un next to Kim Jong Il. Did you see any of those indications?
BLITZER: No. We were restricted. Obviously, we had enormous restrictions, where we could go, with whom we could speak. But I did have a chance to speak with the foreign minister, the chief nuclear negotiator. Everyone just below the very, very top -- Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un who was really being groomed to take over.
Everyone knew Kim Jong Il was sick. We didn't know how sick. We didn't know the extent of, you know, how long he could survive. He's obviously lasted a year after my visit there and, once again I was covering Governor Bill Richardson's visit. He was invited by the North Koreans because it was a time of very, very -- a very, very severe tension along the Korean Peninsula.
But having said all of that, there was no sign that I got that there was any tension with Kim Jong Un. It seemed like everyone was on board. That this is what Kim Jong Il wanted, and as a result, this was the guy who was going to be taking over. And by all accounts, it looks like that's going to happen within days now, now that it's confirmed that Kim Jong Il is dead.
VAUSE: OK, Wolf, stay with us. We now have, I'm told, Mike Chinoy back with us on the phone from Los Angeles.
Mike, I gave you quite the build-up before. Probably there is no one I know who knows more about North Korea than you. You most recently there back in August a total of 15 times. So, please, just tell us, what do you expect will happen in the next couple of days and maybe go beyond that. What do you think?
MIKE CHINOY, CNN ANALYST: Well, I think in the next couple of days, you're going to have the preparations for a funeral. I gather that Kim Jong Il's son, Kim Jong Un, has been named the head of the funeral committee. He's clearly the designated successor.
I think in the short run, the system is going to continue more or less as is. This has been in place for a while. The fact that a year ago in October that Kim Jong Un was unveiled at this big meeting of senior government party and military officials, I think would indicate that the ruling elite across the board were more or less agreed on this dynastic succession.
So I think in the short run, it's going to be not business as usual because this is a huge shock psychologically and to the North Korean system. But I think things will just carry on.
The deeper questions come over the long term in the sense that Kim Jong Un is very young. He is still quite inexperienced. Not very much is known about him. And so there are lots of questions about what he's going to do. Will he be able to consolidate his power? Will he be essentially a figurehead and there will be some kind of regent figure?
When I was in Pyongyang in August, one of the -- the Chinese ambassador was -- who had been at -- to North Korea, who had been at meetings with him was reported to have described him as a quiet, thoughtful, polite young man who attended these meetings with senior leaders along with his father. Didn't say very much. Just listened. Absorbing what he was -- what he was learning.
So he's still in very much of a learning mode. And there were lots of questions about whether he'll be able to make his will felt throughout the North Korean system.
I think it's also important, though, people are going to start talking about, is North Korea going to collapse? Is this the end of North Korea?
I think it's way too early to talk about that, not least because the Chinese have made a very clear decision in the last year, 18 months, that propping up North Korea is in their strategic interest. They have significantly increased their economic engagement with the North Koreans, in spite of the fact that there are technically still international sanctions against the North for its nuclear tests.
The Chinese are not going to let North Korea go down. And I think that's a very, very important factor here. Moreover, the North Koreans, whatever their internal ambitions and rivalries, I think, are well aware that if the system all crashes and burns that none of them have any future, particularly not in the united Korea in which South Korea essentially absorbs North Korea.
So I think the North Koreans will be sending out mixed signals in the coming weeks and months. They have been into somewhat more open mode in terms of engaging with the United States. There have been some signs of incremental progress in laying the ground work for resumption of the six-party talks.
So I think on the one end, the North may well want to pursue that because they see a reduction of tensions as in their interest. At the same time, they'll be wanting to send a very strong signal that nobody should think that in this difficult time that somehow they are a soft target, who can be pushed and over they will go.
So I think you'll get mixed messages of willingness to continue to explore on the diplomatic front. Some of these initiatives, with very clear signals. If you mess with us, there will be a big price to pay.
VAUSE: Mike, let's just talk about that for a moment because in the past when there's been talk of this leadership transition, when there's been talk of Kim Jong Il's bad health and possible incapacity at the leadership, they have coincided with missile launches, attacks on the islands in South Korea and various shellings across -- artillery shellings across the border.
Now, obviously, the death of Kim Jong Il is way beyond any talk of his ill health or tension within the leadership. That then begs the question, will we see some kind of major military movement on the part of the North Koreans, possibly deploying troops on the border, sending ships out? I don't know. What do you think?
CHINOY: Well, the North Koreans have always used brinksmanship as one of their main tactics to achieve their political as well as military goals. They are going to want to send a very clear signal to the U.S. and to South Korea. Don't mess with us just because this has happened. And I think in South Korea, you've had a government under President Lee Myung-bak which has taken a pretty consistently tough line towards North Korea ever since he became president. And I think the North Koreans are deeply suspicious of the South.
There may well be some voices in South Korea saying now is the moment to push the North Koreans really hard. One swift kick and over they go. And I think the North Koreans will do whatever they feel is necessary to prevent that from happening.
That being said, I don't think the North Koreans are interested in a fight. But they are going to be, I think, very clear in signaling don't construe the death of Kim Jong Il as a sign of weakness.
There's an interesting parallel here. In 1994, Kim Il Sung died two weeks after former U.S. President Jimmy Carter had visited Pyongyang and brokered an understanding which led to a resumption of talks between North Korea and the U.S. on that nuclear crisis of that period. I was actually in Pyongyang. I used to work for CNN, as you know, with Carter. And I was in Geneva covering U.S.-North Korean talks when Kim Il Sung died and there was all this discussion about with his death, would the North Koreans be impossible to deal with?
And, in fact, by October of 1994, the North Koreans and the U.S. reached an agreement. It was called the Agreed Framework under which the North froze its nuclear program for eight years.
So it's entirely possible that the North will continue to try to explore ways of moving forward diplomatically. The indications that we have had recently were that the North Koreans were talking with the Americans about suspending their uranium enrichment program in return for the United States providing several hundred thousand tons of food aid as sort of initial steps leading to the resumption of six-party talks.
So I suspect the North Koreans might still want to explore that, but to do it in a context where they make it very clear that people should not think that they are an easy, soft target, more vulnerable to pressure now. The instinct in this kind of system, given the intense nationalism that you have in North Korea, given the degree to which the North Korean system is built around this personality cult and worship of a god-like leader, the intension, I think, is going to be very much for the time being rally around the flag, hunker down, send very clear signals, don't mess with us, we can tough this out, and we're not anybody's pushover.
VAUSE: If I can steal your line that you once shared with me as far as elite in the military goes in North Korea. At a time like this, they all hang together or they'll all hang separately.
When you have a situation with North Korea, they feel like particularly vulnerable, and as you say, using brinksmanship and the wires are now reporting that the South Korean government has ordered all government workers on to emergency alert, including the military. Having said that, there's no report of any unusual military activity on the North Korean side of the border, though. This makes, as Wolf Blitzer said, for a very, very tense and very dangerous period.
CHINOY: I think that's true. I think it is a dangerous period. But it's not necessarily only a dangerous period because of actions being taken by the North Koreans. I think there is a tremendous potential for misunderstanding. You just mentioned the South Koreans putting their military on alert. It's a natural thing. It's a natural understandable response.
But if the North Koreans misinterpret any attempts by South Korea, for example, to put its forces on alert, as somehow being aimed at targeting them, then you can see some pushback. And if fact, the South Koreans, this past -- just some weeks ago held live fire exercises in the vicinity of that island in the sea off the western coast of Korea which the North Koreans shelled. The South Koreans have -- are not beyond their own kind of muscle flexing.
So I think it's going to take very skillful management and very careful management and very high level of communications. I think there are going to be some other interesting things to watch for, for example. One is, are the South Koreans -- is South Korea's president going to express a formal condolences at the death of Kim Jong Il?
In 1994 when Kim Il Sung died, the then South Korean President Kim Young-sam refused to express condolences. In fact, Kim Il Sung was condemned in South Korea as the architect of the Korean War and so forth. And that permanently poisoned North Korea' relations with Kim Young-sam's government. And when President Clinton did express condolences, it made a very, very big difference and indeed that is something that the North Koreans mentioned.
So, this is also going to be a test for the Obama administration. How are they going to handle this? If they just say rude things about North Korea, they could further undermine the already slim prospects of progress. So a lot of the way in which particularly the U.S. and South Korea respond to this in terms of what they say will have a, I think, significant effect on shaping the North Korean reaction.
And if the North feels that Washington and Seoul are sort of ganging up on them, they are going to put the squeeze on them now. Then I think you could see some pushback.
VAUSE: OK, Mike, I really hope you could stay with us, but we have Stan Grant in Beijing because you raised a couple of interesting points, where you said that they will take some very skillful management during a very tense period and crucial to that will be what Beijing plans to do.