Hillary Clinton: U.S. "deeply concerned" for the people of North Korea

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on December 19, 2011.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on December 19, 2011.

Updated: 5:17 p.m. ET

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday expressed hope that the United States would see "improved relations" with North Korea in the aftermath of the death of Kim Jong Il, but said she was "deeply concerned" about the well-being of the North Korean people in light of the recent events.

In a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Koichiro Gemba, Clinton said both the U.S. and Japan "share a common interest in a peaceful and stable transition in North Korea, as well as in ensuring regional peace and stability."

"President Obama and [South Korean] President Lee [Myung-bak] spoke last night. I spoke with [South Korean] Foreign Minister Kim [Sung-Hwan] early this morning. And we are also reaching out to Beijing and Moscow, and of course closely coordinating with our Japanese friends," Clinton told reporters.

Clinton said discussions had begun between members of the Six-party nuclear disarmament talks between the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China. The Obama administration had been expected to announce this week that the U.S. would make a large donation of food aid to North Korea in exchange for the country's announcement that it was suspending its controversial uranium enrichment program. The dual announcements signified the first important development after months of secretive diplomatic talks.

"We reiterate our hope for improved relations with the people of North Korea and remain deeply concerned about their well-being," Clinton said.

Gemba told reporters that he and Clinton had had "an in-depth discussion on the situation in North Korea" at their meeting on Monday, adding, "We share the recognition that it is important to make sure that the latest events would not negatively affect the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."

In light of the North Korean leader's death, all eyes are on Kim Jong Un, the mysterious heir to the leadership, as uncertainty surrounding the nation's future abounds.

The Six-party talks are seen as being in jeopardy amid Obama administration concerns about instability on the Korean peninsula.

In a press briefing on Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said it was "too early to make any kind of judgment" about the future of the North Korean government or its leadership, but stressed that America's relationship with the country would hinge on its "commitments to denuclearization."

"This is a period where North Korea is in a period of national mourning. And we hope that the new North Korean leadership will take the steps necessary to support peace, prosperity, and a better future for the North Korean people, including, as I say, acting on its commitments to denuclearization," he said.

"This transition is just now beginning to take place," he added later in his remarks. "The issue here isn't about personalities. It's about the actions of the government. And, you know, we will monitor the situation closely."