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Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2007, 14:40 GMT
Nuclear deal fuels Kim's celebrations
By Charles Scanlon
BBC News, Seoul

People take part in a folk dance in Pyongyang
State television showed blanket coverage of popular euphoria
Kim Jong-il is not a leader who has to worry about opinion polls.

He has come to expect adulation bordering on worship from his subjects and, judging by the celebrations for his 65th birthday, the personality cult is alive and well.

State television whipped up popular enthusiasm with blanket coverage of popular euphoria.

There were khaki-clad ladies of the People's Army in near hysteria as the "Great General" visited their artillery unit, well-drilled citizens executing a mass folk dance in Pyongyang's main square, and party leaders singing his praises at a snow-bound log cabin - the leader's mythical birthplace.

This year there has been an extra kick to the celebrations.

Kim Jong-il is credited with a great diplomatic victory over the US following this week's agreement of aid in return for a nuclear shut-down.

'Smart and self-confident'

The North Korean people have been told there will only be a temporary freeze at the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon - a far cry from the full dismantlement demanded by the US.

A top communist party official in a congratulatory message on the leader's birthday described last October's nuclear test as "a thrilling demonstration of the might of the nation".

Statue of Kim Jong-il
He's mixed brinkmanship with good-boy behaviour
Han Sung-Joo

Former South Korean foreign minister

"Kim Jong-il is very smart and very self-confident," says Wendy Sherman, a former US envoy on North Korea, who spent 12 hours with him during a visit to Pyongyang in the dying days of the Clinton administration.

"He may live a relatively isolated existence but he knows what's going on in the outside world."

Many analysts share the view that North Korea has won an important round in its confrontation with the US.

It has succeeded in winning aid and easing diplomatic pressure without agreeing to destroy its nuclear arsenal - estimated at about eight atomic bombs.

"He's mixed brinkmanship with good-boy behaviour and he's been very effective in dealing with the outside world," says Han Sung-Joo, a former South Korean foreign minister.

"He's skilfully exploited internal divisions in other countries and has gained a lot without giving up that much."

Hostile world

Despite appearances, this is a regime fighting for survival.

Kim Jong-il's genius has been to project an image of strength and make the very best of a weak hand.

Soldiers salute during birthday celebrations
Members of North Korea's military joined in the birthday celebrations

In the end, North Korea's persistence wore down the Bush administration, which began by refusing negotiations and promising "no rewards for bad behaviour".

After testing a nuclear device last year, Kim Jong-il is now looking to extract tribute from nervous neighbours and an exasperated US.

Furious haggling can be expected at each stage of the negotiations.

South Korea is only too eager to push ahead with its policy of reconciliation and is expected to begin shipping large amounts of food and fertiliser which were suspended at the height of the nuclear crisis last year.

That could undercut attempts by the US to keep incentives strictly in line with steps towards nuclear disarmament.

North Korea may feel little incentive to give up a residual nuclear deterrent that keeps the regime feeling secure in a hostile world.

Preparations for Kim Jong-il's 65th birthday

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