The youngest son of North Korea's authoritarian leader has been given the title of "Brilliant Comrade," a newspaper reported Friday, a sign the communist regime is preparing to name him as successor to the ailing Kim Jong Il.
The report came shortly before the U.N. Security Council approved tough new sanctions Friday against North Korea for its recent nuclear test.
U.S. and South Korean intelligence authorities disclosed during a meeting this week that 26-year-old Kim Jong Un is now being referred to in the secretive regime as "Yongmyong-han Dongji," which translates roughly as "Brilliant Comrade," South Korea's mass-circulation JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported.
An unidentified intelligence official quoted by the newspaper said the title means the North will engineer a cult of personality for the younger Kim — much like it was done for his father and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the only two leaders North Korea has seen.
The eldest Kim founded North Korea in 1948 in the aftermath of World War II when the peninsula was divided between the Soviet Union-controlled north and the U.S.-backed south.
Kim, who was referred to as the "Great Leader," died in 1994, paving the way for the first hereditary transfer of power in a communist nation. His son, Kim Jong Il, became the "Dear Leader."
Youngest of three sons
The ailing 67-year-old Kim, who reportedly suffered a stroke last year, is said to be grooming "Brilliant Comrade" Jong Un, the youngest of his three sons, to succeed him. Jong Un reportedly studied at the International School in Berne, Switzerland, in the 1990s, and is said to be proficient in English.
Grandiose titles are part of a tradition to stimulate public support in a nation where the media is tightly controlled and little information about the inner workings of the government is available. The leader is given credit for most national projects. The state media carry endless flattering reports about Kim, repeatedly referring to him with his various titles of which "Dear Leader" is the most prominent.
Earlier this week, North Korea's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said in an editorial that an important issue concerning the nation's fate and its revolution had been resolved.
Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute think tank outside Seoul said this was an apparent reference to a power transfer.
"It indicates that North Korea has resolved the succession issue," he said.
A third nuke test?
The developments come as a U.S. official said Thursday that North Korea may be preparing for a third nuclear test in defiance of the United Nations. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the unreleased information, would not provide details regarding the assessment.
Analysts speculate credit for any such test would be given to Jong Un to establish his credentials before he takes over.
North Korea describes its nuclear program — which became public after its first test in 2006 — as a deterrent against possible U.S. attacks. Washington says it has no intention of attacking and has expressed fear that North Korea is trying to sell its nuclear technology to other nations.
"North Korea needs at least two more tests to perfect its nuclear weapons system," Baek Seung-joo, an analyst at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, told The Associated Press.
"It appears the North has concluded that possessing nuclear weapons is the way for it to survive. I think a third nuclear test is fairly possible."