Meanwhile, the state-run media has been turning out ever-more elaborate praise of Kim Jong Il, the 52-year-old son whom Kim Il Sung had chosen as his successor despite apparent resistance both from within the country and from its most powerful foreign patron, China. Kim Jong Il was reported yesterday to have received foreign ambassadors in Pyongyang, indicating that he was already taking on his father's mantle.
But as the People's Assembly and the Central Committee of the Communist Party began gathering in Pyongyang to elect a new leader, the world could only wait to see whether the new regime would bow to demands that it open its suspect nuclear programme to foreign inspectors.
No foreigners are to be invited to Kim Il Sung's funeral next Sunday. Even former United States President Jimmy Carter, who met Kim Il Sung three weeks ago and conveyed the invitation for a summit to South Korea's President, Kim Young Sam, was told through diplomatic channels that his request to attend the funeral had been turned down.
The postponement of the inter-Korean summit, planned for 25-27 July, was not unexpected. Diplomats noted that Pyongyang did not say the meeting was cancelled, leaving open the possibility of rescheduling once a new head of state has been appointed. In a letter sent by Kim Yong Sun, the chairman of North Korea's Unification Policy Committee, to the South, he said: 'I have been instructed to let you know we cannot but delay the scheduled summit meeting between the top leaders of South and North Korea, owing to an unexpected incident which has already been made known by special announcement.'
If Kim Jong Il is made both President and head of the Korean Workers' (Communist) Party, he would have to overcome his shyness of publicity to meet the South's President in what would be a high-profile occasion. Alternatively the President's job could conceivably go to Kim Il Sung's younger brother, Kim Yong Ju, who is now a vice-president, while Kim Jong Il would take the job as head of the party and attempt to control everything from behind the scenes.
North Korean radio has already made a subtle, but telling shift in describing Kim Jong Il as the 'Great Leader', a title which used to refer to his father. The son had been called the 'Dear Leader'. Yesterday's edition of the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the country's Communist Party, said: 'We will entrust our destiny entirely to Kim Jong Il and remain loyal and devoted to him.'
The paper praised the deceased Kim Il Sung for solving in advance 'the question of inheriting the cause of the leader. This is the greatest and most brilliant feat among the feats he performed for the country and the revolution.'