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North Korea Set to Convene Delayed Rare Political Conference

North Korea is preparing to convene a rare meeting of its only political party to select new leaders. As the delegates assemble in Pyongyang, South Korea and the United States are holding a maritime exercise in the Yellow Sea intended to deliver a message of deterrence to the North.

North Korea's last Workers' Party Congress took place in 1980.

Analysts expect this conclave will fill vacant party posts and name some younger officials to replace elderly central committee members.

Anticipation is high that supreme leader Kim Jong Il's youngest son, Kim Jong Un, will be given a prominent job.

Professor Lee Woo Young at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul agrees with that assessment.

He says since Workers' Party meetings deal with organizations within the party it is highly likely Kim Jong Un is going to be officially appointed to a post.

There are numerous reports that Kim Jong Il's health continues to deteriorate. Regional experts suspect he suffered a stroke two years ago.

The party conference was originally set for early September. No reason was given for the delay, but some North Korea analysts speculate the leader's health may be one reason. Recent flooding also may have delayed the meeting.

Professor Lee says it is likely the damage from this month's rainstorms prevented delegates from reaching the capital.

Lee says the meeting is supposed to be held in a festive atmosphere but the floods ruined it and made it logistically difficult to hold the meeting as originally scheduled. But he also acknowledges the possibility that top officials failed to agree about who would get certain posts, including Kim Jong Un.

As North Korea prepares for its political gathering, South Korea and the United States on Monday began a joint maritime exercise in the Yellow Sea. The five-day anti-submarine war game is the latest in a series of joint military drills this year.

Officials of both militaries say the drill is meant to send a clear message of deterrence to North Korea.

The United States and South Korea are among the countries blaming North Korea for the sinking of a South Korean warship in the Yellow Sea six months ago. An international investigation concluded the vessel was destroyed by a North Korean torpedo. Pyongyang denies responsibility.

North Korea has condemned the exercise, saying it is a rehearsal for a nuclear war.

An uneasy peace has prevailed on the Korean peninsula since 1953 when fighting in the devastating three-year civil war ended. No peace treaty has ever been signed.