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North Korea's Kim Jong-il cements 'military first' stand with key appointments

North Korea's Kim Jong-il gave son Kim Jong-un a military as well as a political role. The emphasis on military appointments in the politburo fortifies the 'military-first policy.'

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Many details surrounding Kim Jong-un are unclear. Even his age, reported here to be 27 years old, is reported varyingly in the media. He is said to have attended the Kim Il-sung National War College, named for his grandfather, who ruled for nearly half a century before dying in 1994 and passing on power to Jong-un’s father. Jong-un reportedly did not actually commute to classes but was tutored at one of his father’s residences.

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The new politburo lineup includes a number of familiar figures, including Kim Yong-nam, president of the Supreme People’s Assembly and titular head of state, and Choe Yong-rim, the premier. Among military names on the politburo are Ri Yong-ho, newly promoted to vice marshal, and Jo Myong-rok, an aging vice marshal who is first vice chairman of the National Defense Commission. Mr. Jo’s claim to international fame is that he went to Washington in October 2000 and, in full military regalia, met President Bill Clinton in the White House. He also was honored at a State Department dinner hosted by Madeleine Albright, then secretary of State, and saw William Cohen, secretary of Defense, at a time of reconciliation between the US and North Korea.

The politburo also includes Kim Jong-il’s younger sister, Kim Kyuong-hui, whom he named as a general along with his son. Her husband, Jang Song-thaek, was named an alternate member.

Another significant appointment to the politburo was that of Kang Sok-ju, a major figure in negotiations over the years on North Korea’s nuclear program, who was recently promoted from vice foreign minister to vice premier. His appointment is seen as indicating North Korea’s new emphasis, at the urging of China, to return to six-party talks on giving up its nuclear weapons in return for a massive infusion of energy aid.

Related: 5 key people to watch in North Korea