By Lee Chi-dong
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama had emergency telephone talks late Sunday night to discuss a joint response to the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the White House said.
“The President reaffirmed the United States’ strong commitment to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and the security of our close ally, the Republic of Korea,” it said. “The two leaders agreed to stay in close touch as the situation develops and agreed they would direct their national security teams to continue close coordination.”
The White House earlier said Obama had received a briefing on the reports of Kim’s death shortly after Pyongyang’s media broke the news at 10 p.m. Sunday (Washington time).
“We are closely monitoring reports that Kim Jong-il is dead. The President has been notified, and we are in close touch with our allies in South Korea and Japan,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in an emailed statement.
“We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies,” he added.
A State Department official earlier said that, “We have seen the press reporting on the death of Kim Jong-il. We will be back in touch (with you) when we have further information to share.”
Officials at the Defense Department were not available for immediate comments.
In New York, Kim Sook, Seoul’s top envoy in the United Nations, said, “We are trying to collect related information through various channels. For now, we will have to wait and see the South Korean government’s response including the National Security Council meeting (in Seoul).”
Kim, 69, died of a heart attack on Saturday (Seoul time) while on a train for a “field guidance” tour, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
The U.S. reportedly planned to have another round of high-level talks with North Korea in Beijing next week but the two sides are expected to indefinitely postpone the meeting, sources said.