By Kari Huus, NBC NewsNorth Korean leader Kim Jong Un is planning to travel to Tehran next week in his first overseas visit since taking over after his father’s death in December, South Korea’s Yonhap and Arirang news services reported on Wednesday.
Iran’s spokesman for the Non-Aligned Movement Summit confirmed that Kim would attend a meeting of the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement scheduled for Aug. 26-31, according to Seoul-based Arirang.
North Korea watchers have keenly tracked the movements of Kim Jong Un, about whom virtually nothing was known when he was installed in the top posts of the authoritarian regime in Pyongyang.
In recent months, by adopting a different style than his late father Kim Jong Il, he has sparked a flurry of speculation that he might reform the country’s rigid economic and social structure.
In July, Kim started appearing in public with an attractive woman who was later announced to be his wife Ri Sol Ju. Kim’s recent appearances at an amusement park and with school children have made the young leader — thought to be 28 or 29 years old — seem more approachable than his father.
Last week, Kim’s uncle Jang Song Taek met with top leaders in Beijing, fueling predictions that Pyongyang would put in place economic reforms like those launched in China three decades earlier.
But by making his first foreign visit to Iran — a country nearly as estranged from the rest of the world as his own — Kim gives no sign of a foreign policy thaw.
The Non-Aligned Movement was set up at the height of the Cold War by nations that did not want to side with NATO or the Warsaw Pact Nations. Hosting the summit, held about every three years, rotates among the 120 member nations.
About 40 world leaders have confirmed they will attend the summit in Iran, according to the English-language Tehran Times, while another 60 were expected to send lower level officials.
The Obama Administration has said Iran doesn’t deserve to host the summit given its failure to comply with international demands to open up about its nuclear program and has urged UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon not to attend. He has asked nations that are attending to pressure Tehran to come clean, the Associated Press reported Monday.
North Korea also has a nuclear program, the details of which are the topic of much analysis and speculation in the West.
U.S. efforts to engage Pyongyang ended abruptly when Kim Jong Un announced a planned missile launch shortly after agreeing to a deal freezing nuclear development in exchange for food from the United States. The launch failed, but discussions remain on hold. Analysis of recent satellite imagery by the Institute for Science and International Security suggest that the country’s construction of nuclear facilities is accelerating.