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New leader makes diplomatic move

North Korea's next leader burnished his diplomatic skills, solemnly welcoming a private South Korean mourning delegation and offering his thanks, as state media called Kim Jong Un a "sagacious" leader and revealed a new title that gives him authority over political matters.

Mr Kim has rapidly gained prominence since the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, on December 17, and his brief meeting with a group led by a former South Korean first lady and a prominent business leader shows Seoul that he is assured in his new role.

State media have showered Mr Kim with new titles. On Monday, the main Rodong Sinmun newspaper described him as head of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party - a post that appears to make him the top official in the ruling party.

That came two days after the North referred to him as "supreme leader" of the 1.2 million-strong armed forces and said the military's top leaders had pledged their loyalty to him.

Late on Monday, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency also called Mr Kim a "sagacious leader" and "dear" comrade while reporting that he again paid respects to his father, whose body is lying in state at Kumsusan Memorial Palace.

State media has already dubbed him as a "great successor" and an "outstanding leader". KCNA also indicated that Mr Kim will uphold his father's trademark "military-first" policy.

Also on Monday, Mr Kim met a private delegation of South Koreans and gave them his thanks after they expressed condolences and sympathy over his father's death.

The lead delegates were the widow of former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, who engineered a "sunshine" engagement policy with the North and held a landmark summit with Kim Jong Il in 2000, and Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, whose late husband had ties to the North. North Korea sent delegations to Seoul when the women's husbands died.

They stood in a line on a red carpet and bowed silently during their visit to the Kumsusan palace, where Kim Jong Il's bier is surrounded by flowers and flanked by an honour guard.

Kim Jong Un and the two women later exchanged handshakes and clasped their hands when they had brief conversations, the footage showed. Their conversations were inaudible.

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