North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday took on the new military rank of marshal in a development that observers believe shows he is striving to consolidate power over the country's powerful armed forces, the New York Times reported (see GSN, July 17).
The late-20s ruler's additional title follows the firing of former armed forces General Staff head Ri Yong Ho and the elevation of another officer to the vice marshal position. The military shakeup indicates that Kim Jong Un is using the governing Workers' Party to lean on the generals and bolster his own authority, according to experts.
"There is a power game going on, and it's clear that the party people won the first round against the military generals," Seoul-based researcher Chang Yong-seok told the Times. "What we see is not just the reshuffle of the military, but the continuation of the reshuffle of the power elite."
Kim took power following the death in December of his father, Kim Jong Il.
There have been no signs that the personnel changes will mean an alteration in North Korea's longstanding "military first" policy or its foreign posture which focuses on defending against the perceived threat posed by the United States and South Korea (Choe Sang-hun, New York Times, July 17). Pyongyang uses the excuse of a feared attack by the U.S. military to justify its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
State-controlled media on Wednesday teased the news of Kim Jong Un's new military title -- he was already the "supreme commander" of the Korean People's Army -- by saying it had "important news to announce." The possibility that the North might announce it had detonated a third nuclear device was discounted when South Korea said it had not identified any earth rumblings, the London Guardian reported (Justin McCurry, London Guardian, July 18).
Separately, Iranian officials were in Pyongyang on Tuesday for bilateral discussions on uniting in a "common front against imperialism and hegemony," Agence France-Presse quoted official media as saying.
North Korean figurehead state leader Kim Yong Nam hosted Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Aragchi for the talks, the Korean Central News Agency reported.
Both Tehran and Pyongyang are under U.N. Security Council sanctions for their nuclear work. The North is also strongly believed to have sold Iran ballistic missile components (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo!News, July 17).