North Korea's figurehead head of state will attend Iran summit

Rather than sending supreme leader Kim Jong-un to a developing nations summit in Iran, North Korea will send their figurehead leader of state, Kim Yong-nam.

North Korea's President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly Kim Yong-nam (l.) shakes hands with Vietnam's Communist Party's General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong at the Party's Office in Hanoi August 6. Kim Yong-nam will visit Iran for a developing nations summit.

North Korea's figurehead head of state, not supreme leader Kim Jong-un, will attend a summit of non-aligned developing nations in Iran next week, Pyonyang's official KCNA news agency reported on Thursday.

There had been rumours Kim, who succeeded his father Kim Jong-il in December, would visit Tehran to mark his first trip abroad as leader of the isolated and impoverished state.

However, KCNA said figurehead leader Kim Yong-nam would represent the North at the summit for developing nations not tied to any major political alliances.

"Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People's Assembly, will attend the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement to be held in Tehran and will make an official goodwill visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran at the invitation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," KCNA said, referring to the North's official name of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Rumours that Kim Jong-un would make the trip came as the North is believed to be planning to experiment with major farm and economic reforms after he and his powerful uncle purged the country's top generals for opposing change.

Kim has also presented a sharply different image from his reclusive and dour father, making a number of public appearances.

The Non-Aligned Movement is one of few multilateral forums the North has taken part in, but the country's supreme political leader has not attended the summit in decades, opting instead to send a figurehead representative.

North Korea has had close ties with Iran, is believed to have supplied Tehran with ballistic missiles and also to have had cooperation in nuclear weapons programmes.

North Korea is under U.N. Security Council sanctions after their missile and nuclear tests. The sanctions cut off much of its previously lucrative arms trade that had been a rare source of hard cash for the otherwise destitute North.

Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Paul Tait

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