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Fall Meeting Could Herald Rise of N. Korea's Next Leader


North Korea announced last Saturday (June 26th) that its ruling Worker's Party will hold a rare meeting of delegates in September to select a new party leadership. Analysts say Kim Jong Il's health due to a 2008 stroke may be behind an earlier than expected transition in power. Not much is known about Kim Jong Un, but theories abound. VOA's Laurel Bowman has more.

Since North Korea's founding in 1948, it has known just two leaders: Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung.

If Kim Jong Un, succeeds his father, it would continue the only successful hereditary transfer of power in a communist nation. Educated in Switzerland and North Korea, he is thought to be roughly 27 years old. But little else is known.

"Obviously these things are very tricky, but the U.S. government appears to have devoted considerable resources to interviewing every single person it could track down that has had contact with him and the portrait that emerges from that work is of a person that may have borderline personality disorder, profound lack of empathy, and other sorts of disturbing psychological tendencies," Marcus Noland said.

Noland is an expert on North Korea with the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He says Kim Jong Il's recent trip to China was in part to receive China's blessing for their succession plans. Noland says fragmentary intelligence suggests that blessing did not come. "The Chinese, according to these rumors, had done an analysis similar to the United States government and reached similar disturbing conclusions about Kim Jong Un and politely suggested that perhaps other leadership options be considered."

As international condemnation of North Korea swirls over its alleged sinking of a South Korean warship, North Korea is finding itself more and more isolated. At the recent G-20 Economic Summit in Toronto, U.S. President Barack Obama stood firmly by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's side. "It is absolutely critical that the international community rally behind him and send a clear message to the North that this kind of behavior is unacceptable," Mr. Obama said.

North Korea responded by threatening to bolster its nuclear capability. Just saber-rattling, or more?

"We have had times in the past where they have claimed they had a more powerful weapon than atomic weapons which made us fearful of biological weapons and it turned out it was simply the indomitable spirit of the North Korean people," Bruce Klingner, Northeast Asia analyst at the Heritage Foundation stated.

Analysts say that spirit may be crumbling, and have picked up on rare dissent in North Korea, especially following disastrous attempts at currency reform last fall.

Protesters in South Korea have little faith that Kim Jong Un will do better.

"There isn't any hereditary monarch like that on earth," one protester said. "We should not ignore the fact that 22 million people in North Korea are suffering from Kim Jong Il's hereditary regime."

Analysts say Kim Jong Un's transition could begin with a new title or a legislative position.

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