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North Korean leader Kim Jong-il waits for the arrival of South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun in 2007. The economic relationship between the U.S. and North Korea is non-existent at this point.

Adriene Hill: For almost two decades, Kim Jong-Il kept North Korea -- and its economy -- isolated. With his death, control is expected to pass to his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un.

To help us understand what this change might mean for economic relations with the U.S., we've got Victor Cha on the phone. He was President George W. Bush's top advisor on North Korean affairs and is now director of the Asian studies program at Georgetown University. Good morning.

Victor Cha: Good morning.

Hill: So, what's the currently economic relationship between the U.S. and North Korea?

Cha: The current economic relationship is really non-existent. The North Koreans have been under sanctions for decades now, and while there have been attempts to loosen sanctions against North Korea, they have not really resulted in any substantive economic cooperation whatsoever. So there really is not much at all that's happened between the two countries economically.

Hill: And how could this transition change that relationship?

Cha: Well, right now, there don't seem to be any prospects for any major change. The only likely scenario under which you'd see major change is if a new leadership were to de-nuclearize -- give up all their nuclear weapons -- or to revise their human rights policies and opt for normalization of political relations with the United States.

Then you could see a complete re-writing of the relationship. But at this point in time there are pretty heavy odds against that sort of thing happening.

Hill: And so, is there anything on the smaller level that might change?

Cha: On the economic side, just before news of the death of the North Korean leader, there were negotiations last week over restarting food assitance to North Korea from the United States. There were also working-level discussions about restarting a POW MIA remains recovery project that the U.S. military was doing in cooperation with the North Korean military.

Again, these are very small pieces, and it's unclear whether any of this will move forward until the smoke clears in North Korea with regard to what happens after Kim Jong-Il.

Hill: Victor Cha is the director of the Asian studies program at Georgetown University. Thanks so much.

Cha: Thank you.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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