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Too early to assess N. Korean threat

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- There may be too much political maneuvering to consider North Korea a security concern in the immediate aftermath of Kim Jong Il's death, an analyst said.

North Korean television announced Monday that its Kim died from "mental and physical overwork," likely a heart attack suffered Friday.

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South Korean military officials were quoted by the official Yonhap news agency as saying Seoul was on high alert following the announcement of the death of the Kim, 69.

"Since there is a great deal of shock within North Korea after the passing of its leader, the generals decided South Korea and the United States should not create an unnecessary sense of crisis," an official was quoted as saying.

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"They said we should remain calm in our response while bolstering our defense posture, keeping in mind that Kim's death is something that took place in North Korea."

The last time the military alert status was raised was Nov. 23 after North Korea bombed an island in the Yellow Sea.

The White House, in a readout of U.S. President Barack Obama's call with his South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, said Washington was committed to the security of its allies in Seoul.

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"The two leaders agreed to stay in close touch as the situation develops and agreed they would direct their national security teams to continue close coordination," the statement read.

Stratfor, a private intelligence company in Texas, said the transition in power to Kim Jon Un, the youngest of Kim Jong Il's three sons, could be tumultuous. At roughly 30 years old, he's had little time to prepare to take over a nuclear country.

But Kongdan Oh, an analyst for Asian policy at The Brookings Institution, in a briefing statement Monday said, echoed Stratfor's analysis by noting that North Korea isn't as unified around the ruling family as much as some portray.

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"Kim Jong Un has reportedly already purged some people whom he deems insufficiently loyal to him, and, with his father gone, more people are likely to fall," he writes. "In the most optimistic scenario, political infighting will keep the North Koreans too busy to start trouble with South Korea and the rest of the world."

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