Key players in US-Korea diplomacy: Kim Jong Un

From coming dangerously close to blows to agreeing to sit down for historic talks, it has been a roller-roaster ride not only for the two main protagonists, Washington and Pyongyang, but also the rest of the world. Here's a look at the players in the high-stakes diplomacy.

If and when Mr Kim Jong Un sits down with Mr Donald Trump, the North Korean will see his name in the history books, and not on a sanctions list. PHOTO: AFP

On a sanctions list posted online by the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, one name stood out.

"KIM, Jong Un, Korea, North; DOB 08 Jan 1984; Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea (individual)".

It was the first time that the North Korean leader, 34, was called out by name in US sanctions imposed over human rights abuses.

Mr Kim's name was added to the list in 2016 - the year in which North Korea ramped up its nuclear and missile tests.

The following year, it fired three intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the last of which had a range of more than 13,000km, putting all of the United States within range.

With last November's firing of the Hwasong-15 missile, Mr Kim declared his country's nuclear programme complete.

"The US can never start a war against me and our country. These weapons will be used only if our security is threatened," he said at the start of this year.

His father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim II Sung thought the same and continued with the nuclear weapons programme started in the 1950s doggedly despite international sanctions.

Analysts say Mr Kim Jong Un, who studied at a boarding school in Switzerland and is said to love playing basketball, has proven himself to be shrewd and sharp.

He swiftly purged his father's loyalists after taking over as North Korea's leader on his father's death in 2011, and later embarked on a two-track development - of nuclear weapons and the economy.

North Korea watchers say market reforms have led to a small but growing middle class. In 2016, North Korea's economy grew 3.9 per cent, its fastest pace in 17 years.

And since declaring his country's nuclear programme complete, Mr Kim, who is married to former singer Ri Sol Ju, has courted South Korea, China and the US.

On April 27, Mr Kim and South Korean leader Moon Jae In met in a historic summit between the two Koreas. The public image of Mr Kim softened somewhat after the chain smoker was seen to be panting after a short walk.

Following US President Donald Trump's abrupt cancellation of the planned summit on May 24 in a signed letter to Mr Kim, the North Korean leader has gone to great lengths to salvage the meeting and keep it on track for June 12.

He sent his right-hand man, four-star general Kim Yong Chol, to the US to hand deliver an ovesized letter to Mr Trump.
Looking visibly pleased with the letter, the US leader told reporters it was "a very nice letter" and "a very interesting letter".

If and when Mr Kim sits down with Mr Trump - the first meeting between a North Korean leader and a serving US President - Mr Kim will see his name in the history books, and not on a sanctions list.

With input from US Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh and South Korea Correspondent Chang May Choon

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