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U. S. hopes for peaceful N. Korea transition

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration called Monday for a peaceful and stable leadership transition in North Korea, but made few demands on a nuclear-armed nation known for its unpredictability, poverty and hostility to the United States.

Prospects for new nuclear disarmament talks involving North Korea and the United States appeared to dim with the unexpected death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and uncertainty surrounding the planned succession of his politically untested son. Top Obama administration national security officials are focusing intelligence and other assets on the opaque internal politics of the reclusive communist nation.

"We both share a common interest in a peaceful and stable transition in North Korea as well as ensuring regional peace and stability," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters at the State Department after a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba.

"We reiterate our hope for improved relations with the people of North Korea and remain deeply concerned about their well-being," she said. The United States is still looking for better relations with the North Korean people despite the "evolving situation."

Clinton did not say how Kim's death would affect the U.S. approach to his country.

She did not reiterate long-standing U.S. calls for North Korea to follow through on previous nuclear disarmament pledges. The omission of what has been a standard element of any U.S. official's comments on that nation appeared to underscore Washington's concerns.

Later, the State Department said it still was the U.S. view that North Korea must make good on those commitments. But the department said Kim's passing and the assumption of power of his son, Kim Jong Un, would delay anticipated developments on resuming nuclear disarmament talks with the North and supplying the nation with food aid.

The United States had been quietly pursuing a new diplomatic opening with North Korea, with hopes for new nuclear talks as soon as next week.

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