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North Korea succession: Analysts see turbulent period ahead

Amid signs that North Korea's Kim Jong-il is paving the way for his Swiss-educated son to assume power, analysts caution that his youth, and need to prove himself, could pose risks for the US.

South Koreans watch a TV news program at the Seoul Railway Station Tuesday. North Korea's Kim Jong-il appointed his youngest son as an army general, giving the son his first known official title in an apparent sign that he is being groomed as the country's next leader. South Korean media said Kim Jong-un is shown in a portrait on the screen.

Ahn Young-joon/AP

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The prospect of a Western-educated son taking the reins of power from Kim Jong-il, the ailing leader of a closed and backward North Korea, may sound promising.

But as US officials try to divine what a possible transition from Mr. Kim to his son Kim Jong-un would mean for US-North Korea relations and for the myriad security issues confronting north Asia, regional analysts are generally more focused on the implications of the son’s young age – either 28 or 29 – than on his years of schooling in Switzerland.

Would such a young leader, especially one with knowledge of a prosperous and free world beyond North Korea’s borders, be more apt to press for changes to bring his country into the 21st century? Or would such a young and untested newcomer to the North’s leadership be most anxious to prove his toughness to the country’s military hierarchy?

“At first glance this can seem like a good thing – that with new people in power, maybe a younger generation will be more open to modernizing the country and opening up to the West,” says Jim Walsh, a North Korea expert in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s security studies program.

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