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North Korea quickly names 'great successor' after Kim Jong-il's death

North Korea is unlikely to act erratically following the death of Kim Jong-il. All eyes are on heir Kim Jong-un, whose youth and inexperience mean elder statesmen are likely to guide the transition.

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That aid will certainly be forthcoming, adds John Delury, a professor of politics at Yonsei University in Seoul. “Chinese diplomats will be in hyper-stability mode to soften out any bumps that they can.”

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US food aid in question

   The United States, too, is currently considering resuming food aid to Pyongyang. Though the status of that deal is now in doubt, recent talks between US and North Korean officials mean that “channels of communication were opening, and at this stage that is important,” says Professor Delury.

  There seems little prospect, though, that international negotiations aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and welcoming the country back into the community of nations in return, will resume any time soon. The Chinese-sponsored “six-party talks” have been suspended for the past three years, and have achieved little since they began in 2003.

Dramatic steps on nuclear program unlikely

 “North Korea will be very inward looking for months, or even years,” says Peter Beck, a research fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations in Washington. “The regime will be stable but it will be hunkering down” as Kim Jong-un establishes his authority and shows filial piety by staying out of the limelight.

His father waited three years before formally taking power, following the 1994 death of his own father, the man who founded the North Korean state, Kim Il-sung.

 “North Korea will not be adopting any new policies during a long mourning period,” says Professor Liu. “Kim Jong-un will need this time to consolidate his rule and to prepare any policy adjustments.”

 While that probably means that Pyongyang will not take any dramatic steps soon to close its uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons programs, as Washington demands, it also makes it less likely that the government will lash out with unpredictable military attacks, such as its artillery assault on a South Korean island last year.

The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that the North conducted a short-range missile test on Monday, shortly after Kim Jong-il's death became public, according to the Associated Press. The report included the assessment of two South Korean military officials who did not confirm the test but said that it was likely part of a routine drill. 

North Korea has carried out two underground nuclear weapons tests, but “its capability is rudimentary at the moment,” says Greg Moore, author of a soon-to-be-published book on North Korea’s nuclear program.

 “They don’t have anything they can drop from a plane or put on a missile,” Professor Moore adds. “At least we don’t have to worry about whose finger is on the button,” in the wake of Kim Jong-il’s death, “because there is no button yet.” 

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