Washington: The US is assuming that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il will transfer power to his son when he is no longer able to run the country, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday.
Kim Jong Un was promoted to general last month during a gathering of North Korea`s ruling communist party, a move widely interpreted as positioning the son to take over from his father.
"We`ve been seeing signs for quite a long time that the succession was moving in this direction in North Korea," Gates said at a Pentagon press conference with South Korean Defence Minister Kim Tae-Young.
"That`s the assumption that we`re all working on, that he will in fact at some point take on that leadership role," Gates said.
The elder Kim is believed to have fallen into poor health in recent years and to be preparing for his successor. Kim Jong Un is thought to be in his late 20s and the youngest of Kim`s sons.
The South Korean defence minister warned the international community needs to be prepared for possible instability if Kim`s
health continues to falter.
"We cannot eliminate the possibility of there being an instability situation in North Korea," he said.
Gates warned North Korea about making any provocations, referring to the March sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in which 46 sailors died that was widely blamed on Pyongyang, though the Stalinist regime denies involvement.
"Provocations will not be tolerated," he said.
Gates met with his South Korean counterpart as part of the ongoing strategic dialogue between the two allies. Gates called the alliance the "strongest it`s ever been."