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Kim Jong-il Appears on Track for Power Transition: Expert
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is taking a look at the newly built swimming pool at Kim Il-Sung University in Pyongyang, capital of North Korea recently..

North Korea appears to be in the process of a smooth power transition to head off either a radical policy change or a regime collapse, Yonhap News reported on Oct. 2 a U.S. expert on Korea as having said.

"Kim Jong-il's planning for his succession appears to be on track. He seems firmly in charge of the process," Joel Wit, a senior research fellow at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, said in a policy report.

He contrasted the North Korean regime to the Soviet Union in the 1980s, when Konstantin Chernenko, the last of the hardline leaders, was replaced by reformer Mikhail Gorbachev.

"If the transition succeeds, the rise of Gorbachev bent on radical change is unlikely," Wit said.

In the report titled "U.S. Strategy towards North Korea: Rebuilding Dialogue and Engagement," Wit also said he sees no evidence to suggest that North Korean leader Kim's apparent health failure has caused Pyongyang to move "aggressively or irrationally."

"Rather, these actions reflect policy trends already in place before his illness," he said.

He was rebutting the theory that North Korea's provocations, including nuclear and missile tests, were triggered by Kim's efforts to help foster an atmosphere for the grooming of his third and youngest son, Jong-un, 26, after apparently having undergone surgery for a stroke in the summer of last year.

The nuclear and missile tests invited U.N. sanctions, and the North in turn boycotted the six-party talks on ending its nuclear ambitions.

Pyongyang recently invited Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, to attempt a breakthrough through bilateral talks, but Washington insists it will have bilateral talks only within the six-party framework.

U.S. officials said they will make a decision on a possible trip to Pyongyang by Bosworth after Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao completes a North Korean trip next week to meet with Kim Jong-il for a possible concession from the North Korean leader.

Wit said North Korea's actions earlier this year "were not caused by internal political developments, but were the result of a policy shift that began as early as 2002.

"Pyongyang has steadily moved away from trying to secure a strategic relationship with the U.S. as a hedge against pressure from its big power neighbors," he said. "It now seeks to guarantee its security through building national nuclear strength."

North Korea has set an ambitious goal of building a "strong and prosperous nation" by 2012, spawning suggestions that it aims to complete the succession scenario by then as well.

"To achieve that goal, it is prepared to use dialogue tactically to regulate the external environment and consolidate security gains," he said. "While the North's current focus on national nuclear strength does not auger well for future efforts at denuclearization, Pyongyang has in the past proved fully capable of switching course depending on changes in its internal and external circumstances."

In this context, Wit predicted continuation of the North's tough policies in the years to come on condition the transition succeeds.

"A new leader — certainly in his first new years — will be more inclined than Kim Jong-il to continue existing policies and to show toughness in standing up to outsiders," he said.

Any failure in the transition, however, will result in "factionalism, bloody political infighting and ultimately the collapse of the North Korean regime," he said.






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