SEOUL - North Korea's rubber-stamp assembly will meet on Thursday amid reports that leader Kim Jong-il's son will likely be given a key post in the powerful National Defence Commission to further consolidate his position as leader-in-waiting.
The Supreme People's Assembly is one of the country's three main governing bodies that formally approves the budget and other decisions by the leadership. Key officials of the ruling party and the military are typically its elected members.
The defence commission is the pinnacle of power in the secretive North and leader Kim Jong-il rules the country as its chairman. His top lieutenant on the commission died last year after a long illness, leaving the post vacant.
The Chosun Ilbo daily quoted a unification ministry official as saying last month that Kim Jong-un will need the title if he is to visit China as his father's heir and meet Xi Jinping, who is widely tipped as the next Chinese president.
China, the North's main ally and main benefactor, has formally invited the younger Kim but it was not clear when Kim Jong-un would make the trip, the South's spy agency says.
The North's Supreme People's Assembly, when it met in June last year, named Kim's brother-in-law and a close confidant, Jang Song-thaek, to the defence commission in a move seen as shoring up support for the succession.
Jong-un, the ailing leader's youngest known son believed to be in his late 20s, was officially anointed as the reclusive state's leader-in-waiting last year when he was named a four-star general and given a key post in the ruling Workers' Party.
Thursday's meeting is the first major gathering of the North's political elite since the bombing of a South Korean island that killed four people. That attack in November came eight months after a South Korean warship was sunk.
In between the attacks, Pyongyang revealed a uranium enrichment programme, opening a second route to make a nuclear bomb along with its plutonium programme.
Following months of hostile rhetoric and threats of war and retaliation, the two sides have recently sought to engage in dialogue, although the first meetings by their militaries in February broke down.
North Korea has called for the resumption of international talks aimed at compensating it in return for the elimination of its nuclear programmes, but South Korea and the United States have been reluctant to return to the table, saying the North lacks sincerity.
North Korea is believed to be pushing ahead with work at its nuclear site for a possible third test, which could come as early as this spring, analysts have said.
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.