North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has signaled the anointment of his youngest son as heir to the ruling family dynasty, South Korean media said on Tuesday as the rival Koreas built up their forces along a disputed sea border.
North Korea, whose military posturing after last week's nuclear test prompted U.S. and South Korean forces to raise the alert level, is readying mid-range missiles for test launches, the South's Yonhap news agency reported a lawmaker as saying after a defense briefing.
But in Washington, a senior U.S. official said North Korea would probably ease tensions now that the succession issue appeared to have been settled and said Pyongyang would likely return to six-party talks.
North Korea has asked the country's main bodies and its overseas missions to pledge loyalty to Kim's youngest son Kim Jong-un, various South Korean media outlets quoted informed sources as saying.
"I was notified by the South Korean government of such moves and the loyalty pledges," Park Jie-won, a member of the opposition Democratic Party, said in a statement.
He declined to name his source but Yonhap said Park was among a group of lawmakers briefed on Monday night by the country's spy agency about the succession plans.
Kim Jong-un, born either in 1983 or early 1984, was educated in Switzerland and intelligence sources have said he appears to be the most capable of Kim's three known sons.
Even by North Korea's opaque standards, very little is known about the son, whose youth is a potential problem in a society that adheres closely to the importance of seniority.
"There is a significant link between North Korea's recent military provocations and succession issues," said Lee Dong-bok, an expert on the North's negotiating tactics.
No big shocker here, as this has been passed around for a while...including here, in January 2009.