Cables show officials guessing on N. Korea

By David E. Sanger
New York Times / November 30, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

WASHINGTON — With North Korea reeling from economic and succession crises, US and South Korean officials early this year began secretly plotting out what would happen if the North, led by one of the world’s most brutal family dynasties, collapsed.

Over lunch in late February, a top South Korean official told the US ambassador, Kathleen Stephens, that the fall would come “two to three years’’ after the death of Kim Jong Il, the country’s ailing leader, Stephens later cabled Washington.

A new, younger generation of Chinese leaders “would be comfortable with a reunited Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the United States in a benign alliance,’’ said the diplomat, Chun Yung Woo.

But if Seoul was destined to control the entire Korean Peninsula for the first time since the end of World War II, China — the ally that keeps the North alive with food and fuel — would have to be placated. So South Korea was planning to assure Chinese companies they would have ample commercial opportunities in the mineral-rich northern part of the peninsula.

As for the United States, the cable said, “China would clearly ‘not welcome’ any US military presence north of the DMZ,’’ the heavily mined demarcation line that now divides the two Koreas.

This trove of cables ends in February, just before North Korea began a series of military actions that has thrown some of Asia’s countries into crisis. A month after the lunch, the North is believed to have launched a torpedo attack on a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors.

Three weeks ago Pyongyang revealed the existence of a uranium enrichment plant, potentially giving it a new pathway to make nuclear bomb material. And last week it shelled a South Korean island, killing four people.

The documents help explain why some South Korean and US officials suspect the military outbursts may be the last snarls of a dying dictatorship. But a Chinese analyst warned that Washington was deceiving itself once again if it believed “North Korea would implode after Kim Jong Il’s death,’’ according to a US diplomat.