Kim Jong Il, the North Korean dictator who led the closed-off nuclear nation for the past 17 years, has died, North Korea’s state television announced Monday. Officials put his age at 69.
Israel has long suspected Kim’s North Korea of helping Syria develop nuclear capabilities.
Known in North Korea as the “Dear Leader,” Kim inherited power from his father, Kim Il Sung, and he had been grooming one of his own sons, Kim Jong Un, to take over upon his death. But it is unclear whether the country’s armed forces, made up of some 1.2 million troops, will get behind the succession plan.
South Korea, which has remained in a state of war with its Communist neighbor to the North for more than five decades, put its military on high alert. It’s president, Lee Myung-Bak, called for calm, and held an emergency Cabinet session Monday.
Following initial reports of Kim’s death, the White House released the following statement: “We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies.”
Kim’s death could delay Obama administration decisions about restarting nuclear talks with North Korea, and providing food aid to the nation, where famine is thought to have killed more than a million people.
In his 2010 memoir, former President George W. Bush wrote that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had asked the U.S. to bomb a Syrian facility, where Israel believed that Syria was developing nuclear weapons with the help of North Korea. The U.S. balked, and the site was bombed, in a 2007 attack widely attributed to the Israeli military.