New Signs of Kim’s Ascendance as S. Koreans Visit

December 27, 2011
By , The New York Times

SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Jong-un, the new leader of North Korea, met Monday with a private delegation of prominent South Koreans, his first face-to-face encounter with any visitors from the estranged South since assuming the top spot a week ago when his father’s death was announced.

The meeting, scrutinized for any hint of Mr. Kim’s intentions toward South Korea, came as the official North Korean news media announced he had been appointed to the top post of the ruling party, another step in what appeared to be a choreographed sequence of events meant to show that he was assuming all the key positions held by his father, Kim Jong-il, the longtime ruler of the isolated, nuclear-armed North.

South Korea had said it would send no official mourners to Kim Jong-il’s funeral, which angered North Korea as a sign of disrespect. But Kim Jong-un’s meeting with the private delegation of mourners, which included the former first lady of South Korea and a top businesswoman, appeared to be cordial.

The South Korean visitors, Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former President Kim Dae-jung, and the chairwoman of Hyundai Asan, Hyun Jeong-eun, which had business ties with North Korea, were the only South Koreans allowed by the government in Seoul to lead private delegations to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, to express sympathy over the death of Kim Jong-il on Dec. 17.

They conveyed their condolences at the Kumsusan mausoleum in Pyongyang, where Kim Jong-il lay in state, according to the South Korean government.

Mr. Kim thanked the South Korean visitors, the official North Korean news agency, K.C.N.A, said.

Ms. Lee and Ms. Hyun laid wreaths and walked around Kim Jong-il’s glass coffin to show their respect, K.C.N.A said. In a message in the visitors’ log, Ms. Lee wrote that she hoped the two Koreas would achieve an “early reunification” by honoring a 2000 summit agreement in which her husband and Kim Jong-il had promised to encourage political reconciliation and economic exchanges.

Kim Jong-il’s funeral is set to take place on Wednesday, and a memorial is scheduled for Thursday.

Kim Jong-un’s announced elevation to the leadership of the Workers’ Party’s Central Committee came two days after the North’s state-run news media published an entreaty for him to become supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, whose support is considered crucial to his consolidation of power. The top officers also moved quickly to swear their allegiance to Mr. Kim.

Since Kim Jong-il’s death was announced on Dec. 19, a series of pronouncements from North Korea have indicated that Kim Jong-un, his third and youngest son, was rapidly consolidating his grip on power by assuming top titles, or that whoever was rallying the key agencies of power behind the young leader was ensuring that the son would not share power, at least in the public eye.

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