Tokyo: North Korea`s ruling party could meet to choose a new leadership on Tuesday or Wednesday, media reports said, dismissing reports of a delay because of "dear leader" Kim Jong-il`s health.
Japan`s Yomiuri newspaper cited a source close to the issue as saying the Workers` Party conference, which brings together the secretive state`s ruling elite for the first time in 30 years, could have been held up by severe flooding.
It said the meeting could start as early as Wednesday. Radio Free Asia, quoting sources in North Korea, said it could start as early as Tuesday.
The meeting is being watched closely by regional powers for signs of the start of the succession process involving the ailing Kim`s youngest son, Kim Jong-un.
South Korea, China, the United States and Japan want a smooth power transition to take place in the reclusive country with a military-first policy and enough fissile material for at least six to eight nuclear weapons.
Experts say the best case and most market-friendly outcome is an approximate continuation of the current system.
Diplomats and analysts had widely forecast the meeting, which had been scheduled to start between September 1-15, to have been wrapped up by now.
South Korean media reported it was delayed by the 68-year-old leader`s deteriorating health.
Outlook Weekly, a current affairs magazine issued by China`s official Xinhua news agency, carried an unusually candid commentary on the meeting by Zhu Kechuan, a researcher for the Xinhua global issues research center.
Zhu noted that foreign media had speculated that the congress may unveil a new leadership, that Kim, known domestically as "dear leader," is in poor health and may promote a suitable successor, and that the economy has for a long time been in a slump.
"These analyses are basically reasonable," Zhu said.
The meeting comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity in the region, home to the world`s second- and third-largest economies and a massive arms build-up straddling the Korean peninsula military border.
Pyongyang has expressed a willingness to return to nuclear disarmament talks, which have been in limbo since 2008 when the mercurial North walked out and said they were finished. China has hosted the on-again-off-again talks since they began in 2003.