An image grab from North Korea's state-run Korean Central Television, broadcast on South Korean television and taken Thursday, shows the man experts believe is Kim Jong Un, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's youngest son and likely heir, attending the Conference of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang on Tuesday.
As North Korea prepares to celebrate the 65th anniversary of its ruling Workers' Party this weekend, a top official has confirmed that Kim Jong Il's youngest son will be the nation's next leader.
Yang Hyong Sop, a senior official in the Workers' Party, told The Associated Press in Pyongyang that North Koreans will be honored to serve Kim Jong Un as their leader. It's the first public confirmation about Kim Jong Il's succession plan.
Kim Jong Un would be the third successive generation of his family to lead the nation of 24 million. His grandfather, Kim Il Sung, founded North Korea in 1948 on a policy of self-reliance called juche and built a cult of personality around him and his son, Kim Jong Il.
Kim Jong Il took over as leader after his father died in 1994 in what was the communist world's first hereditary transfer of power.
"Our people take pride in the fact that they are blessed with great leaders from generation to generation," said Yang, a member of the political bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea and vice president of the Parliament. "Our people are honored to serve the great president Kim Il Sung and the great leader Kim Jong Il. Now we also have the honor of serving young general Kim Jong Un."
The world got its first real glimpse of Kim Jong Un — believed to be 27 or 28 years old — last week when his photo was published in state media and he was shown on television at a Workers' Party convention, the country's most significant political gathering in 30 years.
He had been virtually unknown outside North Korea before the convention, where he was promoted to four-star general and vice chairman of the party's Central Military Commission. That backed up analyst speculation that he had been chosen to succeed his ailing father as eventual ruler of the impoverished authoritarian regime, which pursues active nuclear and missile programs.
In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it
remains to be seen whether a change of leadership would lead to a
change in the regime's behavior. Gates spoke at a Pentagon news
conference with his South Korean counterpart Kim Tae-young after
the two had the latest in a series of meetings.
Friday's comments by the Workers' Party official come two days before the nation celebrates the communist party's 65th anniversary. Workers were preparing Pyongyang's central Kim Il Sung Square, the expected venue for Sunday's festivities, Associated Press Television News footage showed. Red flags proclaiming the anniversary were visible in the city.
"What I can tell you is that comrade Kim Jong Il and comrade Kim Jong Un will lead us to victory with their wise guidance, and our people are well aware of the significance of the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea," Yang said.
With reporting from Doualy Xaykaothao in Seoul and material from The Associated Press.