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Lee downplays N. Korea's reported next leader

All Headlines 16:30 September 10, 2010

By Lee Chi-dong

MOSCOW/YAROSLAVL, Russia, Sept. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Friday he would not regard Kim Jong-un, the third son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, as his counterpart even if the junior Kim is formally designated as the heir to the communist regime.

"(Jong-un) does not become my counterpart (automatically) although he is appointed as next leader," Lee said in an interview with a Russian state television station, Russia 24-TV, according to a transcript released by his office, Cheong Wa Dae.

Lee is on a visit in Russia to attend an international forum.

Lee also said his government may consider setting up a second inter-Korean industrial park in North Korea if Pyongyang takes "forward-looking" measures towards the existing industrial complex in the North's border town of Kaesong.

It is the first time that the South Korean president has publicly commented on North Korea's purported but veiled next leader who is reportedly in his 20s.

The North's powerful Workers' Party is reportedly preparing to soon convene sometime this month for a rare conference of representatives from across the country where many analysts expect the younger Kim to be given a key post as a clear sign that he is being groomed to become the North's next leader.

They do not rule out the possibility that Jong-un will be officially nominated as the heir to the North as the current leader and his father is said to be speeding up the power-transfer process due to his illness. Kim Jong-il, 68, is said to have suffered a stroke in 2008.

"(The leadership) will be eventually inherited by the third generation from Kim Il-sung and Chairman Kim Jong-il," Lee said, referring to the father of the incumbent leader and the late founding leader of the North.

Lee refused to go into details, however, saying it is an internal affairs of North Korea, and he has no concrete information.

Responding to a hypothetical question that he may meet Jong-un some day, Lee said, "If I meet Chairman Kim Jong-il and (Jong-un) sit together, I will be able to meet him naturally, but I would not attach a special meaning to that as he is not my counterpart."

lcd@yna.co.kr
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