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Kim Jong Il's Son Given Senior Communist Party Posts, Military Commission

South Koreans watch a TV news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, 28 Sep 2010

South Koreans watch a TV news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, 28 Sep 2010

The youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has been given senior posts in the ruling communist party and commissioned a four-star general in Pyongyang's armed forces.

North Korea's state-run news agency (KCNA) announced Wednesday that Kim Jong Un was named to the central committee of North Korea's Workers' Party. He also was appointed vice chairman of the party's powerful central military commission, which his father heads.

North Korean television for the first time on Tuesday mentioned the youngest son of top leader Kim Jong Il.

An announcer read Supreme Commander's Order Number 51, signed by the elder Kim, in which his son, Kim Jong Un, is among those named a military general.

Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East West Center in Hawaii, said "It's maybe a step toward what we expect to see happening in the next few months, that is the preparation of third son, Jong Un, for paramount leadership. But what many outside analysts expect is that he won't be the real power. He'll be something of a front man, the direct connection to the royal line."

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The ruling Workers' Party Tuesday opened its first conference since 1980 in Pyongyang, and reappointed Kim Jong Il the party leader.

Some North Korea experts expect the son to be given a senior post at the party meeting.

Little is known about Kim Jong Un. He is believed to be in his late 20's and may have studied in Switzerland under a different name. His grandfather, Kim Il Sung, was North Korea's first leader, followed by Kim Jong Il, now 68 and apparently in declining health.

The announcement of his appointment as a general did not mention he is Kim Jong Il's son. Also named as an army general: Kim Jong Il's elder sister, Kim Kyong Hui.

Long-time North Korea watcher Roy at the East West Center expects little from the Workers' Party meeting.

"If Kim Jong Un wasn't substantially advanced toward the goal of being a paramount leader that would be a surprise. Of course any major shift of policy would be a dramatic surprise. Any indication that North Korea is willing to deal forthright with the Cheonan incident would be a great surprise. Unfortunately I don't expect any of these things to happen," said Roy.

The Cheonan, a South Korean naval ship, exploded and sank in the Yellow Sea six months ago. An international investigation blamed a North Korean torpedo, but Pyongyang denies any involvement.

Seoul demanded an apology from the North before relations can improve.

Professor Lee Woo Young, of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, says there is a possibility Pyongyang this week could indirectly signal a desire to improve relations.

Lee says if someone known for having a softer line on North-South relations gets chosen for a high-level party post, that in itself could improve ties. And, he says, it could also be seen as a gesture toward improving relations between Pyongyang and Washington.

North Korea and its main ally, China, have been pushing for a resumption of six-nation talks about ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs. North Korea left the talks last year.

U.S. officials recently have said they want to see North Korea take steps showing its sincerity about making progress in the six-nation talks. Besides the U.S. and the two Koreas, the other partners are China, Japan and Russia.

As the party delegates opened their meeting in the North Korean capital, Korean War veterans marched through downtown Seoul as South Korean fighter jets flew in formation overhead. Seoul on Tuesday marked the 60th anniversary of the re-capture of the city from North Korean invaders during their war in the early 1950s.

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