- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2009

SEOUL | North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s youngest son has reportedly been named to the powerful National Defense Commission, an appointment analysts said Sunday indicates the 26-year-old is being groomed to take power.

Kim Jong-un speaks English, likes basketball — and is said to look and act just like his father.

The reclusive, nuclear-armed communist nation’s next leader has been the focus of intense media speculation since Mr. Kim, 67, reportedly suffered a stroke last summer.

Mr. Kim has ruled with absolute authority since his father, Kim Il-sung, died in 1994, leading to the communist world’s first hereditary power succession.

Kim Jong-il has allowed no opposition, raising concerns about a power struggle if he dies suddenly without naming a successor.

The eccentric leader has three known sons by two women. The oldest, Kim Jong-nam, was long considered his favorite — until he tried to sneak into Japan using a fake Dominican passport and visit Tokyo’s Disney resort in 2001.

The middle son, Kim Jong-chol, apparently has never been a favorite as a possible leader. Kim Jong-il’s former sushi chef says in a 2003 memoir that the leader considers his second son “girlish.”

But talk about the youngest son has been growing. On Sunday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Kim Jong-un was assigned to a low-level post at the defense commission, the top government body, several days before his father was reappointed as the commission’s chairman on April 9.

That reappointment marked the first major public appearance for the “Dear Leader” after his reported stroke. He was gaunter and grayer.

Yonhap, citing unidentified sources it says are privy to North Korea affairs, said Kim Jong-un’s appointment means he has embarked on his training as successor and is expected to move step by step into the commission’s higher-level posts.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry and the National Intelligence Service said they cannot confirm the report.

Little is known about Kim Jong-un. The former sushi chef, Kenji Fujimoto, says in his memoir that the son looks and acts just like his father.

The teen studied at the International School of Bern in Switzerland, a short walk from the North Korean Embassy, where classes are taught in English and many students come from diplomatic families.

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