- - Monday, January 2, 2012

SEOUL — Observers trying to divine the real power behind the new leader of North Korea’s totalitarian regime are resorting to an old Cold War technique called “Kremlinology.”

They are dissecting propaganda messages that praise Kim Jong-un as the new “supreme leader.” They will have to scour records of party meetings and search for the appearances of key figures in state media.

In the Soviet Union, a brutish transfer of power often resulted in officials of the previous regime being toppled from their party positions in the Kremlin government fortress in Moscow. They would be scrubbed from official photographs or, in some cases, shot.

“It will be good old ‘Kremlinology,’ ” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea specialist at Seoul’s Kookmin University.

“People will be analyzing public appearances, rosters, who was standing next to whom, who was suddenly absent, who suddenly disappears.”

Kim Jong-un has the essential bloodline, following his father, Kim Jong-il, and his grandfather Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea. However, Kim Jong-un is inexperienced and young in a society in which age is respected.

“We may see the emergence of collective leadership, or a collective ‘regency’ system, or a very successful and smooth settlement of his power base,” said Kim Tae-woo, president of the Korea Institute of National Unification.

“The worst case is conflict within the military or an uprising.”

Hoping to avoid new tensions between the two countries, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak appears ready to reach out to the new leadership in Pyongyang.

The two nations remain in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The nuclear-armed communist North has tested two atomic weapons since 2006. Relations fell to a new low in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors and North Korea’s shelling of a South Korean island.

Mr. Lee said Monday that South Korea is prepared to “resolve security concerns on the Korean Peninsula and provide assistance to review North Korea’s economy” through the resumption of the so-called six-party talks. The long-stalled negotiations involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

However, Mr. Lee warned North Korea that “if any aggression occurs, we will respond with strength.”

North Korea vowed over the weekend to open a drive for prosperity under Kim Jong-un. It launched the new year with pledges to end hunger, fortify the military and defend Kim Jong-un “unto death.”

Kim Jong-un was installed as supreme commander of the 1.2 million-strong military and ruling party leader after his father’s Dec. 17 death.

The North’s New Year’s message lacked the denunciations of the United States of the past and did not mention its nuclear weapons program. Some observers saw that as an indication that Mr. Kim is willing to continue talks with Washington about food aid.

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