TOKYO -- The younger brother of North Korean President Kim Il Sung, returning to political life after 18 years, was elected vice president at the Supreme People's Assembly Saturday, the official (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
Last week Kim Yong Ju, 71, was appointed to the Politburo, the ruling party executive body, at a plenary session in Pyongyang, KCNA said in a dispatch monitored in Tokyo.
Yong Ju previously had not sat on the party central committee.
He was North Korea's representative in negotiations with Seoul resulting in a 1972 joint announcement to end hostilities and work towards the reunification of the peninsula, and was named deputy prime minister in 1974 but disappeared from official view in 1976.
The sixth session of the supreme assembly also elected Kim Pyong Sik, chairman of the Korean Social Democratic Party, as a vice president.
Political analysts were divided over the significance of Yong Ju's sudden rise. Some said it could indicate Kim Il Sung, 81, was having second thoughts about having his son, Kim Jong Il, succeed him. Others said Yong Ju's comeback put him in a position to serve as an assistant to the heir apparent.
The leadership shuffle comes amid escalating tensions over North Korea's rejection of a U.S. proposal for improved relations in return for allowing international inspections of two suspect nuclear sites at Yongbyon.
It also coincides with an unprecedented admission by the leadership that the Stalinist economy has been devastated by the collapse of the Soviet Union and is in a state of crisis.
Jong Il, 51, has long been groomed to succeed his aging father, North Korea's only leader since the government was established in 1948.
Pyong Sik also recently returned to politics after an absence stretching back to 1972. Last July he was named chairman of the Korean Social Democratic Party.
Since the demise of the Soviet bloc, a communique issued Thursday following a Central Committee plenum said North Korea has been forced to pay world prices in scarce foreign exchange for essential imports, making it impossible to fulfill the Third Seven-Year Plan as scheduled.
Faced with annual U.S.-South Korea military exercises, North Korea has also had to 'divert a big proportion of the economy to national defense,' the communique said.