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Relations between the Koreas plummeted following the November 2010 shelling of front-line Yeonpyeong Island, seven miles from North Korean shores, and a deadly warship sinking in March of that year blamed on Pyongyang. North Korea has flatly denied its involvement in the sinking, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

Kim Jong-un’s handling of North Korea’s military and diplomacy will come into sharper focus over the next several weeks.

The United States and North Korea will have important nuclear disarmament talks Thursday — the third round of bilateral talks since last summer and the first since Kim Jong-il’s Dec. 17 death. They are aimed at restarting six-nation aid-for-disarmament negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program.

The North pulled out of those negotiations in early 2009 but has said it is willing to restart the six-nation talks, which also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. But the U.S. and its allies are demanding that the North first demonstrate its sincerity in ending its nuclear weapons program.

Additionally, a series of military exercises between the United States and South Korea will extend over more than two months. Seoul and Washington say their long-planned annual drills are defensive in nature, but North Korea calls them preparation for an invasion.

South Korea began joint anti-submarine drills Monday with the United States, but the training site is farther south from the disputed sea boundary, South Korean military officials said. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea for what U.S. and South Korean officials call deterrence against North Korean aggression.

South Korean and U.S. troops will start 12 days of largely computer-simulated war games next week, and two months of field training drills in early March.

Early Monday, the powerful Political Bureau of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party announced it would convene a conference in mid-April to “glorify” the late leader and to rally around his son.

The conference could wrap up the North’s power succession process, Mr. Cheong said, with Kim Jong-un possibly promoted to general secretary of the Workers’ Party, the ruling party’s top job and one of the country’s highest positions.