WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday urged North Korea's new leader to chart a different course than his father, saying he could become a transformative figure who steers his nation away from a dark history of starvation and oppression.

Many US officials and North Korea experts fear the young Kim Jong-un will push ahead with the nuclear brinkmanship and repression of his of father Kim Jong-il, whose sudden death in December elevated the untested 20-something leader from obscurity.

"This young man, should he make a choice that would help bring North Korea into the 21st century, could go down in history as a transformative leader," Clinton told reporters after diplomatic and defense talks with South Korean leaders.

"Or he can continue the model of the past."

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