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U.S. seeks more consultations on N. Korea's internal situation

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 (Yonhap) -- Alarmed by the news that North Korea executed leader Kim Jong-un's once-influential uncle, the U.S. government said Friday it is deepening consultations with regional allies and partners about what's going on in the reclusive communist nation.

"We are going to increase our discussions with our allies and partners in the region about the internal situation in North Korea," the State Department's deputy spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said at a press briefing.

She was referring to South Korea, China, Russia and Japan, members of the now-suspended six-way talks on North Korea's nuclear program.

Whatever happened in the North, Harf stressed, Washington's core policy on the nation remains unchanged -- denuclearization.

Harf reiterated the Obama administration's strong denunciation of the North Korean regime, led by Kim, aged around 30.

Earlier this week, Kim's regime executed Jang Song-taek, 67, who was reportedly a regent and mentor to the young leader, according to the North's state media.

Accused of committing a host of treacherous crimes including an attempt to overthrow the regime, Jang was formally removed from all of his top posts in the North Korean leadership just a few days earlier.

"I think this is indicative of really the values of the regime -- their low regard for human life, what's probably one of the worst human rights records in the world," Harf said.

She expressed concerns about the possibility of increased instability on the peninsula.

"We don't think any time is really a good time for instability. Certainly, stability on the Korean Peninsula is very important to us," she said.

But she sidestepped a barrage of questions on the U.S. analysis of the situation in the North.

North Korea experts here said the unpredictable leadership style of the nuclear-armed nation's leader raises uncertainty in regional security.

"The prospect of a reign of terror within North Korea could trigger unforeseen consequences, either intimidating elites near the center power or undermining their loyalty to the system," Jonathan Pollack, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said in a report.

He pointed out Kim has moved rapidly to displace the long-loyal subordinates of his deceased father, Kim Jong-il, including Ri Yong-ho, who was chief of the general staff of the North Korean army.

Jang's purge and execution demonstrate that he will demand absolute loyalty to his rule and obeisance to all his decisions, Pollack said.

"The possibility of a far reaching purge in a nuclear-armed state defined predominantly by hostility to the outside world is deeply disquieting," he added. "Amidst the uncertainties and dangers posed by Jang's ouster and execution, there is an urgent need for all surrounding powers and the United States to consult closely to limit the risks of an even larger crisis."

Dennis Halpin, formerly an adviser on Asian issues to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed that a pattern of purging experienced advisers has clearly emerged as part of Kim Jong-un's modus operandi.

"Some see this as a move to replace the old guard of his father's generation with persons beholden to Kim Jong-un personally," he said in an op-ed piece for the Weekly Standard magazine. "But it may be more of an indication of youthful bravado by a cocky but inexperienced leader than a sign of stability and strength."

Halpin said Pyongyang-Beijing ties may be affected by the loss of Jang.

"The execution of Beijing's man in Pyongyang may give Kim Jong-un one more opportunity to thumb his nose at the Chinese for agreeing to greater sanctions in the wake of his missile and nuclear adventurism," said Halpin, currently a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

An experienced leader, however, would have recognized that there is, at present, no alternative to China for Pyongyang and Jang represented a valuable conduit to the mandarins in Beijing, added Halpin.

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