New Delhi: India is closely watching developments in North Korea following the death of its longtime leader Kim Jong-il, which could improve New Delhi's ties with the reclusive country whose nuclear programme and its export of missile technology to Pakistan have been a cause of much concern here.

New Delhi is watching the events in North Korea closely, said official sources. Kim Jong-il, the supreme leader of nuclear-armed North Korea, died on Saturday during a train journey. He was 69. Reports from Pyongyang strongly indicate that Kim's youngest son Kim Jong-un has succeeded him as the ruler of the country.

Not many are expecting any dramatic change in the power structure, but Kim's successor could bring in his own people and change some policies to consolidate his power base.

The death of Kim Jong-il comes at a time when India's relations with North Korea, which have always been shadowed by Pyongyang's covert export of missile technology to Islamabad through Pakistan's AQ Khan network, have shown some signs of improvement.

In March this year, India was quick to respond to a food crunch in North Korea by providing USD 1 million through the World Food Programme. Pyongyang lauded India's timely assistance.

For the first time in the last decade, North Korean Foreign Minister visited the Indian embassy at the Republic Day function in Pyongyang Jan 26. A few days later, the North Korean vice Foreign Minister invited the Indian ambassador for dinner, said sources, citing these instances as a warming of ties between the two countries.

In May, a team from North Korea visited India to explore the Indian experience in setting up special economic zones. In August, India and North Korea held foreign office consultations and decided to intensify bilateral ties.

India and North Korea established diplomatic relations way back in 1973 and have maintained embassies in each other's capitals. Many North Koreans receive training annually in India in diverse fields, including IT and science and technology.

However, the relations never blossomed due to North Korea's closed system and its ties with the military leadership in Pakistan that extended to covert nuclear tie-ups. India's bilateral trade with North Korea is around half a billion dollars, a paltry amount compared to New Delhi's over USD 10 billion trade with South Korea.

India also sees North Korea's nuclear ambitions and its covert nuclear programme as a threat to regional security. In 1999, India impounded North Korean vessel MV Ku Wol San off Kandla port and found that it was carrying 177 tonnes of missile components, blueprints and manuals.

In May 2009, India was quick to condemn the nuclear test conducted by North Korea and voiced its concerns about its adverse impact on peace and security in the region. "For (North Korea) to conduct such a test in violation of its international commitments would be unfortunate," External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said May 25, 2009.

With India's growing trade with South Korea and its improving ties with North Korea, the US has been discussing the North Korean situation with New Delhi in a bid to broaden regional efforts to denuclearise the Korean peninsula.

Kim 's death an intelligence failure
 
South Korean and US intelligence services failed to pick up any clues even after 48 hours of Kim Jong-il's death, demonstrating an extensive intelligence failure, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Asian and American intelligence services have failed to pick up significant developments in North Korea even earlier. Pyongyang built a sprawling plant to enrich uranium that went undetected for about a year-and-a-half until North Korean officials showed it off in late 2010.

The North also helped build a complete nuclear reactor in Syria without tipping off Western intelligence. Highly sensitive antennae along the border between South and North Korea pick up electronic signals. South Korean intelligence officials interview thousands of North Koreans who defect to the South each year.

South Korea was caught completely off guard by the elder Kim's death, which was not disclosed for 22 hours. "This shows a big loophole in our intelligence-gathering network on North Korea," Kwon Seon-taek, an opposition South Korean lawmaker, told reporters.

(Agencies)