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U.S. cautious in calls on N. Korea

Secretary Clinton urged a peaceful, stable transition. Hopes for nuclear talks dimmed.

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration called for a peaceful, stable leadership transition in North Korea on Monday 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 unexpectedly sudden death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and uncertainty surrounding the planned succession to 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 that former President George W. Bush once placed on an "axis of evil" enemies list.

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

Nor did she make demands on the new leadership, passing up the opportunity to reiterate U.S. calls for North Korea to follow through on previous nuclear-disarmament pledges. The omission appeared to underscore Washington's concern about the situation.

The State Department later said it still was the U.S. view that North Korea should make good on the commitments. But the department said Kim's passing and assumption of power by 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, including hopes for new nuclear talks as soon as next week. That opening now appears on hold, while U.S. officials assess Kim Jong Un.

The administration had been expected to decide, possibly as early as Monday, whether to try to reengage North Korea in nuclear negotiations and provide it with food aid. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that decision had been postponed as the administration was now focused on consulting with concerned nations on events in Pyongyang.

Officials have said the United States was concerned about any changes Kim's death might spark in the military postures of North and South Korea, but were hopeful that calm would prevail, despite the test of a short-range missile by the North just hours after the announcement of Kim's death.

The White House said Monday that it was too early to make any judgments about whether Kim Jong Il's death would provide an opening for better U.S. relations with North Korea. And spokesman Jay Carney said the longtime leader's death had not spurred new concerns about North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons.