Image: Kim Jong Un
The front page of North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Thursday shows a group photo of senior North Korean officials, including Kim Jong Un. The newspaper identified Kim Jong Un as being second from left in the front row. news services
updated 9/30/2010 10:52:01 AM ET 2010-09-30T14:52:01

North Korea on Thursday released what is believed the first official image of leader Kim Jong Il's youngest son and heir apparent.

A photo of a group of senior Workers' Party officials was published in the country's Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

An article accompanying the photo lists the names of those in the picture. The 20-something Kim Jong Un was one of the officials named.

Meet the Kims: A guide to North Korea's ruling family
  1. The death of Kim Jong Il
    1. Report: Red skies, stormy seas marked Kim's death
    2. Circumstances of Kim Jong Il's death fabricated?
    3. Politics trump hunger in N.Korea
    4. Slideshow: The life of Kim Jong ll
    5. Source: Military coup in N. Korea 'unlikely'
    6. NYT: In Kim's death, an extensive intelligence failure
    7. Cartoons: The life and death of Kim Jong Il
    8. Analysis: Opportunities, dangers loom over N. Korea
    9. Even in death, details of Kim Jong Il's life elusive
    10. Kim Jong Il remembered as 'Team America' star

The photo's release comes after the younger Kim earlier this week was handed top military and party posts at a Workers' Party conference.

The ascension of Kim Jong Un to a prominent ruling party post put him well on the path to succeed the supreme leader at the helm of nuclear-armed North Korea and carry the family dynasty into a third generation.

Rising with him were the ailing Kim Jong Il's sister and her husband, creating a powerful triumvirate ready to take over the family dynasty that has ruled North Korea since its founding after World War Two.

Kim's Swiss-educated, youngest son was made a four-star general in his first mention in North Korea's state media on Tuesday. Early Wednesday, the communist nation announced that Kim Jong Un was appointed to the Workers' Party Central Committee.

After months of speculation, the state KCNA news agency announced on Wednesday that the untested Kim Jong Un had been made second in command to his father at the ruling party's powerful Central Military Commission.

  1. Related content
    1. Koreas military talks end with no progress
    2. Is the Taliban really talking?
    3. Mapping personal, political drama of Kim clan
    4. N. Korea leader's son gets political posts
    5. N. Korea dynasty expected to go 3rd generation
    6. Heir apparent? N. Korea leader promotes son

"It is another step toward a new power structure which will consist of Kim Jong Un, a young and inexperienced dictator, and two people — his aunt and her husband — who will be making all real political decisions while mentoring the young leader," said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University. "A figurehead and a couple of powerful regents, if you like."

Kim Jong Il's sister Kim Kyong Hui, 64, retained her position as a department director on the Central Committee and gained a new post as a member of the Central Committee's Political Bureau — the country's second-highest political body. She has risen sharply in prominence in recent months and has been seen frequently at her brother's side.

Her husband was also awarded new political titles. Jang Song Thaek was named an alternate Political Bureau member, KCNA said.

The isolated state's collapsing economy and bid to become a nuclear weapons power pose major threats to the region.

Image: Kim Jong-un
Reuters Tv  /  Reuters
Kim Jong-un (front row, center), youngest son of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il, attends a meeting of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang September 28, 2010, in this video released on September 30, 2010.

'Military-first' policy
Kim Jong Il has led the nation with absolute authority since taking over in 1994 upon the death of his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, in the communist world's first father-to-son transfer of power.

Speculation has been brewing about another dynastic succession since the 68-year-old reportedly suffered a stroke in August 2008. There are concerns that his sudden death without a leadership plan in place could spark chaos in the nation of 24 million that he rules under a "military-first" policy.

Slideshow: The life of Kim Jong ll (on this page)

Noticeably thinner and grayer, Kim Jong Il has resumed touring factories and farms but is said to be suffering from diabetes and kidney trouble.

But Kim Jong Il showed no sign of losing his grip on power and was reappointed on Tuesday as secretary-general of the Workers' Party.

The meeting, attended by Kim Jong Il, also elevated long-time loyal family aides to its supreme leadership body.

    1. Castaway's parents thought they would never see him again

      The father of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga said he was told his long-lost son vanished on a fishing trip but he didn’t have the heart to break the news to his ailing wife.

    2. Scotland legalizes same-sex marriage
    3. Weapons deal strengthened Assad: US intel chief
    4. Outcry over the fate of Sochi's stray dogs
    5. Olympic construction leaves Sochi residents in the cold

Kim Jong Un is believed to be only 27 and until this week held no known political or military positions. However, he was always his father's favorite, and the most like him in looks and ambition, the family's former chef wrote in "I Was Kim Jong Il's Cook" under the pen name Kenji Fujimoto.

The son has been kept well under wraps since childhood, and the mere mention of Kim Jong Un's name in state media caused ripples among North Korea watchers looking for confirmation that Kim Jong Il had anointed the young man as his successor.

Slideshow: Daily life in North Korea (on this page)

A stable succession will be a relief to its economically powerful neighbors — China, South Korea and Japan.

But regional powers will be watching for any signs of a change in the policies which have driven the North's economy to near ruin and potential collapse. That would put a huge burden on China and, especially South Korea, which would end up with much of the cost of absorbing a likely flood a refugees.

They will also be looking for any change in the reclusive state's efforts to build a nuclear arsenal that has been central to forcing aid out of the outside world even though it has meant sanctions have largely cut it off from the global economy.

Experts are skeptical of any new dawn.

"Even with a new leader, North Korea is not likely to give up its nuclear ambitions," said Anh Yinhay of Korea University. "But the North faces a dilemma — while keeping the reins of power within the family, the North needs to find a way to overcome its economic crisis.

"They have no choice but to rely on aid from other countries, and they may try to use their nuclear weapons as leverage during negotiations."

Financial markets favor a continuation of the current system and relative stability.

  1. Only on
    1. OWN via Getty Images
      From belief to betrayal: How America fell for Armstrong
    2. pool via Reuters file
      US to Syria neighbors: Be ready to act on WMDs
    3. China: One-child policy is here to stay
    4. NRA: Practice Range
      New 'Practice Range' shooter game says it’s from NRA
    5. 'Gifted' priest indicted in crystal meth case
    6. AFP - Getty Images
      China's state media admits to air pollution crisis
    7. AFP - Getty Images
      French to send 1,000 more troops to Mali
"Externally, it's in everyone's best interest to support the status quo," said Shaun Cochran, head of research for brokerage CLSA in Seoul. "Internally it is simpler to avoid conflict.

"There is an argument that there is less political stability now but I would argue there is potentially more simply because we have a direction everyone is aware of."

China, its only powerful friend and main benefactor, said Beijing would "always handle, maintain and boost China-DPRK (North Korea) relations from a strategic height and a long-term perspective ... despite the ups and downs of the international situation."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: North Korea debates future leadership

  1. Transcript of: North Korea debates future leadership

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: There is an apparent shift of power taking place in North Korea . At that country's biggest political gathering in 30 years, Kim Jong Il has now appointed his youngest son as a military general. NBC 's Ian Williams is in Seoul , South Korea , with details. Ian , good morning to you.

    IAN WILLIAMS reporting: Good morning, Meredith . Well, Kim Jong Il , North Korea 's ailing leader, has begun the process of handing control of that impoverished country to his youngest son . Appointing to a senior military position his youngest son is what's seen as this first step to power. This is thought to be the only known photograph of Kim Jong Un , taken when he was about 11. He's now about 28, though nobody knows for sure. The appointment of Kim Jong Il 's youngest son , initially as a four- star general , was announced ahead of a workers party meeting in Pyongyang today, the biggest in more than 30 years. Few here, let alone outside the country, know anything about the man slated to take this nuclear-armed communist dynasty into a third generation.

    Unidentified Man: We just don't know what he looks like, what his personality is like. He does have two older brothers, but I -- you know, the rumor has it that he, Kim Jong Un , is the one who is most like his father, which probably is not a very good news for the -- for the world.

    WILLIAMS: His father, known in the north as the " Dear Leader ," is thought to be in poor health after two strokes and may not have much longer to live. In Seoul , the capital of South Korea , today, the news came as no surprise to defectors, whose broadcasts are one of the few sources of outside information to the impoverished north. 'Like father, like son,' said Jang Hyun Cho , who fled 10 years ago. Another defector, who didn't want his face shown because he still has family in the north, said he expects the repression to get worse as the young Kim builds his power. It's always taken a lot of guesswork trying to figure out precisely what's going on in North Korea , which is just across the river from here. Uncertainty over the health of Kim Jong Il has already led to arising tensions along this, the world's most fortified border. In March, the north was blamed for the torpedoing of a South Korean patrol boat. And there's continued international anxiety over the north's nuclear weapons and missile programs. Its economy remains in dire straits, made worse by recent flooding. Analysts warn that the young and almost totally inexperienced Kim might face opposition from factions in the army, especially if his father dies before he can build a power base. For that reason, a takeover by the junior Kim may not be a done deal, and we could see some further instability in this dangerous region, Meredith .

Photos: Kim Jong Il through the years

loading photos...
  1. Happy family

    Kim Jong Il as a child with his father Kim Il Sung and first wife Kim Jong Suk. (Noboru Hashimoto / Corbis Sygma) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Young student

    A1963 photo from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency, Kim Jong Il when he was a student of Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. With his friends

    Kim Jong Il, second person from right, takes part of a souvenir picture with his friends in this undated photo. (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Official business

    In his young days working at the Central Committee of WPK (Worker's Party of Korea). (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Training exercise

    Kim Jong Il leads the firearms training of the February 2nd National Sport Defense team members while he was working at the Central Committee of WPK (Worker's Party of Korea). (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Meeting with farmers

    Kim Jong Il talks with farmers when he was in the Central Committee, May 21, 1971. (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Test drive

    Kim Jong Il takes a test drive of a play equipment combat plane in Taesong amusement park, Pyongyang in North Korea,Oct. 2, 1977. (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Filmmaking

    Kim Jong Il gives advice at the shooting of "An Jung Geun Avenges Hirobumi Ito," a narrative film. (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Father and son

    Kim Jong Il was anointed successor to his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1980. Known as the "Great Leader," Kim Il Sung and his son are shown attending a Korean Worker's Party convention in October of that year. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Family portrait

    Kim Jong Il, bottom left, poses memebers of his family in this 1981 photo in Pyongyang, North Korea. Sitting at right is his son, Jong-Nam, Kim's sister-in-law Sung Hye-Rang stands at top left with her daughter Lee Nam-Ok, center and son Lee Il-Nam, top right. While virtually nothing is known about the leader's personal life, an attempt by his first-born son Kim Jong Nam, bottom right, to enter Japan on a false passport in May, 2001, briefly shone a light onto his family's private dealings. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Applause please

    Kim Jong Il meets with Korean People's Army personnel in this Sept., 1988, photo. North Korea is believed to be the most heavily militarized country in the world on a per capita basis. (AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Like father, like son

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Il stands next to his father, Kim Il Sung, inspecting a football field in Pyongyang. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Silent famine

    Residents of Taziri, North Korea, wait for Red Cross food supplies in December 1995, not long after the death of Kim Il Sung left Kim Jong Il in control of the country. At the time, around 130,000 North Koreans were reportedly on the brink of famine and 500,000 were homeless. (Calvi Parisetti / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Kim looking at things

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Il inspects cucumbers harvested inside the 770th army base near Nyon Won power plant in Pyonan-Namdo. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Frenemies?

    South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, right, hugs North Korean leader Kim Jong Il at the end of their summit meeting at the airport in Pyongyang, North Korea. The two leaders held historic talks for three days in June 2000. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A visitor from Russia

    Kim Jong Il walks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, as he arrived in Pyongyang in July 2000 for talks on halting North Korea's missile-development program. (Itar-tass / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Toasting the U.S.

    Kim Jong Il toasts U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at a dinner in Pyongyang in October 2000. The visit was part of an coordinated effort by Washington and its allies South Korea and Japan to end the country's isolation. (Chien-min Chung / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A giant leader

    A portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il displayed at an entrance of the foreign ministry in Pyongyang August 2002. (Shingo Ito / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Welcoming Japan

    Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, left, shakes hands with Kim Jong Il after signing a joint statement at the end of a one-day summit in Pyongyang on Sept. 17, 2002. North Korea admitted to kidnapping Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s and using them to train spies. (AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Crowds in the square

    In January 2003, more than one million people gathered on Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang to hear political leaders hail North Korea's dramatic decision to withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Tearful goodbyes

    Emotional South Koreans bid farewell to their North Korean families following a brief reunion in July 2004. The families were separated by the border that was imposed after fighting ended in 1953. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. X marks the spot

    A South Korean protester holds a picture of Kim Jong Il marked with a cross during a rally in Seoul on July 7, 2006. Demonstrators denounced Pyongyang's test-firing of seven missiles. (Lee Jin-man / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Wining and dining

    South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun joins Kim Jong Il at a farewell lunch in Pyongyang on Oct. 4, 2007, after the two sides signed a pledge to seek a peace treaty to replace the 54-year-old cease-fire that ended the Korean War. With no treaty in place, the two countries technically are still at war. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Military matters

    Kim Jong Il visits a military unit in this picture released by North Korea's official news agency on Aug. 11, 2008. It was Kim's last public appearance before intelligence officials suggested he had fallen gravely ill. (KCNA / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. In the public eye again

    In this image taken from North Korea's KRT state television, Kim Jong II attends the first session of the Supreme People's Assembly on April 9, 2009, in Pyongyang. It was his first major public appearance since reportedly suffering a stroke in August 2008. (APTN) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Paying his respects

    A gaunt-looking Kim Jong Il, sitting center in the front row, is surrounded by high-ranking officials during a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of his father's death on July 8, 2009. Kim Il Sung, who founded North Korea, remains known as the country's"eternal president." (KCNA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Visit from Clinton

    Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, right, meets with Kim Jong Il, left front, in Pyongyang on Aug. 4, 2009. North Korea pardoned and released two detained U.S. journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, after the meeting. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Calling on a cotton farm

    Kim Jong Il inspects a cotton plant farm of the Korean People's Army's 1596 unit on Nov. 29, 2009. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Meet-and-greet

    Kim Jong Il waves as people including soldiers applaud during a visit to the construction site of the Kumyagang Army-People Power Station in South Hamgyong Province in an undated picture released by North Korea's Central News Agency in August, 2010. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. China visit

    Chinese President Hu Jintao, right, meets with Kim Jong Il in Changchun, in northeast China's Jilin province, on Aug. 27, 2010. (Ju Peng / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Likely heir

    North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il, seated at center in sunglasses, and his youngest son Kim Jong Un, seated at left, pose for a photo with the newly elected members of the central leadership body of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) and the participants in the WPK Conference, at the plaza of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang in this picture released by the North's KCNA news agency on Sept. 30, 2010. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il anointed his youngest son as successor this week, promoting him to senior political and military positions. (KCNA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (2nd L) and his youngest son Kim Jong Un (3rd R from Kim Jong-il) visit the cemetery for Chinese soldiers who died during the 1950-53 Korean War in Hoechang County, North Korea, Oct. 26, 2010, in this picture released by North Korea's official KCNA news agency. (KCNA / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. North Korea leader Kim Jong Il, right, and his son Kim Jong Un attend a massive military parade to mark the 65th anniversary of the communist nation's ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea on Oct. 10, 2010. Kim Jong Il, North Korea's mercurial and enigmatic leader whose iron rule and nuclear ambitions dominated world security fears for more than a decade, has died. He was 69. (Vincent Yu / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Pass in review

    Kim Jong Il attends a military parade to celebrate the 63rd founding anniversary of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in Pyongyang on September 9, 2011. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A tearful announcer dressed in black announces the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong il on North Korean State Television on Dec. 19, 2011. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died on a train trip, state television reported on Monday, sparking immediate concern over who is in control of the reclusive state and its nuclear program. The announcer said the 69-year old had died on Saturday of physical and mental over-work on his way to give "field guidance". (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. The body of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is seen inside a glass coffin as people pay their respects, Pyongyang, North Korea, on Dec. 20, 2011. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

    Noboru Hashimoto / Corbis Sygma
    Above: Slideshow (36) The life of Kim Jong ll - Kim Jong Il through the years
  2. Image:
    KCNA via AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (42) The life of Kim Jong ll - World reacts
  3. Elizabeth Dalziel / AP
    Slideshow (7) Daily life in North Korea


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments