SEOUL, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- North Korea's Kim Yang Gon has become more prominent in Kim Jong Un's field guidance tours, and it is possible the veteran politician has gained influence since Aug. 25, when he and South Korean negotiators reached an agreement to defuse border tensions.
The director of the United Front Department of the Korean Workers' Party has accompanied the North Korean leader on six out of nine inspections or tours since Aug. 25, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported on Thursday.
The older Kim, no relation to Kim Jong Un, has surfaced at sites unrelated to his areas of expertise. South Korean analysts have said it is possible Kim has won the full confidence of the North Korean leader, who has reportedly had trouble trusting veteran bureaucrats in the ruling Workers' Party. Kim Yang Gon most recently made an appearance at a pharmaceuticals plant, KCNA reported on Wednesday, and was part of an entourage touring a corn-processing factory and a department store.
According to South Korean analysts, Kim Yang Gon has a long record of negotiations with the South and diplomatic outreach to allies. Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said the younger Kim is relying on the veteran bureaucrat for his abundant experience in international relations.
Kim Yang Gon also played an instrumental role in North-South relations during South Korea's Roh Moo-hyun administration, according to a recent memoir by Kim Man-bok, a former South Korean spy chief.
South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo reported on Thursday Pyongyang's Kim secretly met with President Roh at the presidential Blue House, in order to discuss a possible new deal to defuse military tensions, and ahead of a summit between Roh and former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on Oct. 4, 2007.
Pyongyang had sought a free trade agreement between North and South, but the clause was deleted, according to Kim Man-bok, because Seoul was concerned about repercussions and losing its most favored-nation status with the World Trade Organization.