SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - The decision on who will become North
Korea's next leader may not be final despite reports that Kim Jong
Il has tapped his youngest son to succeed him, South Korea's
defense chief said.
Who will take over as ruler of nuclear-armed North Korea after
Kim has been the focus of intense speculation since the 67-year-old
reportedly suffered a stroke last August.
South Korea's spy agency told lawmakers that Pyongyang notified
its diplomatic missions and government agencies overseas that
26-year-old Kim Jong Un, the youngest of Kim's three sons, will
inherit the leadership of the communist nation.
But Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee told the National Assembly on
Tuesday that intelligence suggests a final decision has not been
made. He did not elaborate.
His comments added to the murky succession drama in the
reclusive country. The conflicting assessments come amid tensions
over the North's May 25 nuclear test and signs that the regime is
preparing to test-fire missiles in violation of U.N. Security
Pyongyang has issued a no-sail zone through July 10 in waters
off its east coast for "military drills."
Kim Jong Il has controlled the impoverished nation of 24 million
with absolute authority since his father's death in 1994. Regional
powers fear instability and a power struggle if he dies without
naming a successor. North Korea has denied Kim was ever ill, but he
appeared gaunt in an April appearance at parliament.
Lee told lawmakers that South Korea's military was keeping a
close watch on Kim's health amid possible signs his condition has
Kim visited a semiconductor materials factory and the country's
academy of sciences in the east coast city of Hamhung, the North's
official Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday.
Lee also said it's clear that the North - which conducted two
underground nuclear tests in 2006 and in May this year - was
pursuing an uranium enrichment program, which can be more easily
hidden than a plutonium-producing reactor.
Meanwhile, a U.S. delegation headed by Philip Goldberg left
Tuesday for Beijing to discuss U.N. sanctions slapped on North
Korea for a nuclear test last month, the State Department said.
Goldberg, a former ambassador, is in charge of coordinating the
China's cooperation in enforcing sanctions against its neighbor
is seen as crucial to increasing pressure meant to push the North
back to nuclear disarmament talks.
The new resolution seeks to clamp down on North Korea's trading
of banned arms and weapons-related material by requiring U.N.
member states to request inspections of ships suspected of carrying
In Washington, the U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday imposed
financial sanctions on Hong Kong Electronics, a company located in
Kish Island, Iran, that is accused of involvement in North Korea's
missile proliferation network.
The action means that any bank accounts or other financial
assets found in the U.S. belonging to the company must be frozen.
Americans also are prohibited from doing business with the firm.
It is the latest move by the U.S. to keep pressure on Pyongyang,
whose nuclear ambitions have ratcheted up global tensions.
U.S. officials also said Tuesday that a North Korean ship - the
first vessel monitored under the U.N. sanctions - had turned around
and was headed back toward the north where it came from.
The freighter had been tracked for more than a week by U.S. Navy
vessels on suspicion of carrying illegal weapons.
The ship was initially believed to be heading toward Myanmar.
The move came after Myanmar's authorities told the North Korean
ambassador they wouldn't allow the Kang Nam 1 to dock if it was
carrying weapons or other banned materials, a Radio Free Asia
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