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N. Korea fails to promote leader's son

North Korea's parliament ended a closely monitored session Thursday without promoting ailing leader Kim Jong-il's heir-apparent son to another top post.

   There had been speculation that the 69-year-old leader could appoint his third son, Kim Jong-un, as a member of the powerful National Defense Commission in Thursday's session to bolster another hereditary power succession.

   The session was the first since Kim named his youngest son vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Worker's Party and a four-star general last year.

   Kim Jong-il took over the country of 24 million people after his father, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung, died in 1994.

   North Korea usually holds a parliamentary session one or two times a year to assess spending and accomplishments of the previous year and to approve the current year's budget.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency did not say a word about Kim Jong-un in its several dispatches on the parliamentary session.

   Instead, KCNA said the rubber-stamp legislature named Ri Myong-su as minister of People's Security, which had been vacant. It also appointed Pak To-chun as a new member of the defense commission, replacing Jon Pyong-ho, who was transferred to other unspecified post. Jon had been deeply involved in the defense affairs.

   Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, said that Kim Jong-un not being promoted doesn't mean there is any problem in the power transfer, but it could be aimed at paving the way for stable power transition.

   "The North appears to moderate its pace in handing over the power," Kim said, noting leader Kim Jong-il is still in charge.

   Last year, Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law, Jang Song-thaek, was appointed as vice chairman of the National Defense Commission in an apparent move to help smooth the power transfer.

   Premier Choe Yong-rim vowed to strengthen military capabilities and improve economy and increase grain production to apparently help ease the country's chronic food shortages,

   The Cabinet "will make sustained great efforts for the provision of materials needed for boosting the combat capability of the People's Army and the defense capability of the country in every way," Choe said at the session.

   He said the North allocated 15.8 percent of the total state budget for national defense this year as it did last year, though he didn't give any monetary figure.

   The session comes as North Korea's top nuclear envoy arrived in Beijing for an apparent meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei.

   The visit by First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan coincided with a trip to Beijing by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.

   Kim and Campbell are expected to hold separate talks with their Chinese counterpart, Wu, on resuming international talks on ending  Pyongyang's nuclear programs and the North's uranium enrichment program.

   The North told a visiting Russian nuclear envoy last month that Pyongyang was willing to discuss its uranium enrichment activity within the framework of stalled six-nation talks chaired by China.

   The session also comes as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter plans to visit North Korea later this month.

   It was not immediately clear whether the diplomatic troubleshooter will help ease tensions on the divided peninsula and eventually lead to the resumption of stalled talks on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

   The U.S. State Department has described the upcoming trip by Carter as "strictly private."

 (Yonhap News)

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