The United States said Friday that the Stalinist regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was “under stress,” but stopped short of saying it was unstable.
“I don’t know that we have any information to question the stability of the regime,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters when asked whether it was vulnerable to collapse.
“It’s fair to say that it is experiencing some stress. This stress is of its own making. Obviously, its most recent economic policies… have had a dire effect on the North Korean economy,” Crowley said.
“The government has seldom been concerned about the welfare of its people,” he added.
“And to the extent that there is a dynamic within North Korea that is communicating to the North Korean government that it needs to pay more attention to the needs of its people, we think that would be a positive development,” he said.
He was referring to a study published Wednesday by the US-based East-West centre that found signs that North Korean attitudes toward the regime, even among the ruling elite, were becoming increasingly negative.
The study, based on interviews with refugees, found North Koreans were increasingly likely to blame the regime rather than the West for economic and other problems.
“North Korea has a clear path, clear choice,” Crowley said.
“If it gives up its… nuclear weapons, if it works constructively to create a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, there are a great many opportunities that are available to North Korea,” he said.
Opportunities include an end to its political isolation, greater investment and increased assistance to cover the basic needs of the impoverished and often hungry North Korean people, he said.
The State Department said Tuesday that the United States would consider resuming food aid to North Korea if Pyongyang moves to lift a year-old refusal of humanitarian assistance.
In June 2008, Washington agreed to send 500,000 tonnes of food aid to North Korea, including 400,000 tonnes through the UN’s World Food Programme and the remainder through other non-governmental agencies.
In March last year, however, the hermit nation began refusing US food aid, without offering a reason.
North Korea’s food situation has worsened recently, forcing the regime to allow some markets to reopen this month in the face of skyrocketing food prices, the United Nations said in a report last week.
A famine prompted in part by natural disasters and economic mismanagement killed hundreds of thousands of North Koreans in the 1990s.