North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il reported dead at 69

Laura Rozen

North Korea's despotic ruler Kim Jong Il has died, reports citing North Korean state media said Sunday.

Kim, the eldest son of the founder of the Stalinist nuclear state, was believed to be 69 years old. Known as "Dear Leader," Kim has ruled the isolated and impoverished nation since 1994.

The White House said it was consulting with allies in Asia.

"We are closely monitoring reports that Kim Jong Il is dead," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement emailed to journalists Sunday night. "The President has been notified, and we are in close touch with our allies in South Korea and Japan. We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies."

South Korea and Japan were reported to be holding emerging meetings on the developments, the BBC reported.

Pyongyang tested a nuclear weapon in 2006.

Kim announced in 2000 that his "foreign-educated third son, Kim Jong Eun, would succeed him as the regime's third leader since its emergence more than a half century ago," the Los Angeles Times' Barbara Demick and John Glionna reported.

But his would-be heir apparent, Kim Jong-eun "has had little preparation in cultivating his own followers and no new ideology to associate [with] his rise to power," Victor Cha, a former Bush White House Asia adviser now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, observed, in an analysis emailed to journalists by the think tank.

Kim Jong Il's death also throws into questions recent tentative discussion between the U.S. and Pyongyang on food aid and a possible return to nuclear negotiations, Cha said.

"Everything is on hold now," Cha wrote. "Last week's talks about food aid and the possibility this week of another U.S.-DPRK bilateral meeting on the nuclear issue are probably all 'OBE'--overtaken by events.  These bits of diplomacy constituted small bites at the apple.  We are now talking about the whole apple."

"Kim, who came to power in 1994 upon the death of his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, led one of the world's most enduring dictatorships, a repressive regime that has long defied predictions of its demise," the Los Angeles Times wrote. "Against the odds, it survived into the 21st century while its people went hungry and its allies drifted away to pursue globalization and reform."

"Though his bouffant hairdo, oversize glasses and elevator shoes made him widely parodied, Kim also had a reputation as a canny survivor and negotiator," Demick and Glionna wrote. "He weathered a storm of international condemnation to acquire and develop nuclear devices."

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