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Some pundits have been anticipating an official announcement of a successor in the wake of these moves. Such actions would legitimize a new leader in the eyes of the North Korean people as being a man of fortitude.

A senior U.S. official told the Reuters news agency that North Korea will probably de-escalate tensions now.

“My guess is that the North Koreans are likely to come back to the bargaining table, especially now that it appears that the succession has been secured,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A former U.S. diplomat who asked not to be named because he still deals with North Korea told The Washington Times the succession process has begun.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean that he has been ‘named,’ only that the North Koreans have begun to build the necessary ‘myths’ that will be required to foster loyalty, build legitimacy, and establish his credibility and credentials as a future leader,” the former diplomat said.

Mr. Myers said some North Koreans might be picking up information from South Korean media.

“The South Koreans may be jumping the gun on this,” said Michael Breen, author of a biography of Kim Jong-il. “The North Koreans are not just going to come out and say, ‘Here is the new leader,’ or people would say, ‘Well I accepted the king, then I accepted the prince, now do I accept the son of prince?’ That would show they are a feudal monarchy.”

Kim Tae-woo of the Korea Institute of Defense Analysis said he had “heard many things about Kim Jong-un but nothing official. Senior North Koreans know that if they try a succession prematurely, the system could collapse.”