- - Monday, March 4, 2013

North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un is a new father after his wife secretly gave birth to a child that intelligence officials believe could emerge as the communist dynasty’s fourth hereditary dictator.

South Korea’s government recently confirmed that Ri Sol-ju, Kim’s wife who was shown in recent months wearing designer fashions and expensive jewelry, had a child in late 2012. The confirmation ended months of speculation about her pregnancy.

The sex of the child is not known, according to U.S. officials and Western diplomatic sources familiar with intelligence reports.

Speculation that Ri was pregnant first surfaced in October after official photos of the North Korean first lady showed what intelligence analysts and North Korea watchers said appeared to be Ri’s baby bump underneath her coat.

Defectors from North Korea and diplomatic sources, meanwhile, provided new details of Ri, who is considered a future power player in the Pyongyang leadership hierarchy and a growing influence on Kim Jong-un.

Ri Sol-ju is a fresh face who is clearly stepping out but it’s much too early to say if her public activity will have any political relevance in North Korea,” said a U.S. official who sidestepped questions about the birth.

Michael Madden, editor of the online newsletter North Korea Leadership Watch, said he has heard from sources close to the ruling Kim family that the couple had a child.

“If it was a boy, [the North Koreans] would have made an announcement,” Madden said in an interview, commenting on Korea’s traditionally male-dominated society.

Initial signs of the pregnancy last fall included reports that North Korean agents were buying baby clothes and furniture in unusual quantities, possibly for Kim Jong-un and Ri, Madden said.

Few details are known about the inner circle of the ruling North Korean regime, which recently advanced its nuclear weapons program by conducting a third underground nuclear test, and earlier fired off a long-range missile capable of hitting the United States.

Ri’s high-profile role as spouse of the supreme leader is a break from the past. In unprecedented media coverage for the Stalinist regime, she has appeared in public wearing short skirts along with expensive jewelry and accessories in an impoverished country known for outbreaks of cannibalism during frequent famines.

By contrast, little was seen in public of the several wives of Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, who died in December 2011. The wife of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung was seen rarely in public.

Disclosure of new details about the ruling couple comes as the regime in North Korea is stepping up its warlike posture with recent propaganda videos posted on YouTube showing lower Manhattan in flames after a North Korean missile attack. A second video posted Feb. 20 showed President Barack Obama in flames after a nuclear strike.

North Korean propagandists then used a simulation of the White House collapsing as the backdrop for a musical performance by the Korean People’s Army Merited Chorus, with Kim in attendance, shown on state media.

North Korea also is planning large-scale war games later this month that military officials are concerned could be a prelude to a new military provocation by the North.

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