- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2011


U.S. intelligence agencies are busy assessing the new power structure emerging in North Korea as Kim Jong-un, son of the late Kim Jong-il, takes over.

As in the days of the Soviet Union when a communist official’s power often was gauged by his position atop Lenin’s tomb during state celebrations, U.S. officials are closely scrutinizing the new North Korean pecking order.

“A lot depends on whether the power centers of the regime coalesce around Kim Jong-un or see this period of uncertainty as an opportunity to change the balance of power internally,” said a U.S. official familiar with intelligence assessments.

“Those are very tricky calculations to make in an authoritarian society like North Korea.”

The first key indicator being looked at is the listing of more than 230 officials designated as members of the official State Funeral Committee for Kim Jong-il. The funeral was held Wednesday in Pyongyang.

The No. 1 official on the list is the 27-year-old, chubby-faced Kim Jong-un, whose current titles include Workers Party of Korea Central Military Commission vice chairman, party central committee member and general in the Korean People’s Army.

The new dictator is being dubbed by Pyongyang propaganda organs as “the Great Successor,” after his late grandfather (“the Great Leader”) and recently deceased father (“the Dear Leader”). He has also been referred to in state media as the “Great Comrade.”

According to U.S. officials, Mr. Kim is known to be a basketball player and a big fan of Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan. His basketball past raises the prospect that he will one day meet America’s current basketball-playing president from Chicago, who is also said to be a Bulls fan.

The funeral committee list is said by U.S. intelligence to be used by the North Korean regime to set its formal power hierarchy and is similar to the power list outlined in September 2010.

Next on the funeral list is Kim Yong-nam, who is nominal head of the government as presidium president of the mock Supreme People’s Assembly. Next is Choe Yong-rim, who is Cabinet premier, followed in the No. 4 position by Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and chief of the military’s general staff.

In the No. 5 spot is Vice Marshal Kim Yong-chun , minister of the People’s Armed Forces and a National Defense Commission (NDC) vice chairman. The two senior officers were seen in video footage of the funeral.

The next seven slots are filled by civilian party leaders, all except one in their 80s.

The No. 13 slot is filled by Vice Marshal Ri Yong-mu, an NDC vice chairman who is married to one of Kim Jong-il’s aunts.

And in the No. 14 position is “Gen.” Kim Kyong-hui, who is Kim Jong-il’s sister and wife of Chang Sang-taek. Mr. Chang is listed as No. 19 on the power chart and is an NDC vice chairman thought by many analysts to be the key power broker operating behind the scenes in Pyongyang.

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