Korean Americans and scholars in the Philadelphia region reacted with a mixture of rejoicing and wariness to the news of Kim Jong Il's death - hopeful of better relations with the North, even as they worried about a potentially dangerous struggle for power.

"We are dancing," said Adam K. Kim of Horsham, former president of the Korean American Association of Greater Philadelphia. "He's dead. It's so wonderful."

He said the news would spark celebrations among Korean emigrants around the world, from South Korea to the United States.

Even so, speculation had already begun on who would be taking over - whether the dictator's anointed successor, Kim Jong Un, would be able to consolidate power.

In the short term, at least, relations between the United States and North Korea will be trickier than ever, said Edward Turzanski, a professor of international relations at La Salle University. Whoever emerges as the leader of this famously "paranoid" regime might well try some aggressive maneuver to try to consolidate power, he said.

"This is a regime that has proven itself to be reckless, and that recklessness always puts us in a dangerous situation," he said. "We have to be careful in our reaction. It needs to be firm, but extremely measured."

The North Korean military, "very jealous of its prerogatives," poses a particular threat, he said. "They'd be very concerned about their prospects if there is talk of reunification," Turzanski said.

University of Pennsylvania professor Frank L. Chance, associate director of the Center for East Asian Studies, also said Kim's death could destabilize the Korean peninsula.

Kim Jong Un "has been groomed to be the successor over the last year or so," Chance said, "but it is not at all clear that he has taken that role, and there may be a power struggle as a result."

South Korea - and Korean Americans - will surely hope for better relations between the two Korean nations, Chance said. But it's possible the North may be even more "recalcitrant," he said.

Still, Kim's death provided a glimmer of hope for Korean Americans who now are all but cut off from relatives in the North.

Bishop Peter Joonsuk Hwang, pastor of the Korean Baptist Church of Philadelphia, said Korean Americans were often afraid to contact relatives.

"They want to see them, on one side, but then if they see the family members, they might have some difficulty with the government," he said.

The dream for Koreans, he said, is still reunification.

"That's our prayer. We are the only country in the world to be divided into two, even though we are one language, and one culture," he said.

"In what way we don't know," he said. "We pray for a peaceful resolution."

Contact staff writer Joseph Tanfani at 215-854-2684 or jtanfani@phillynews.com.