Learning about Anna-Lee
So International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach was pleasantly surprised during a March meeting in Pyongyang when the North Korean dictator broke the ice with a self-effacing remark about his own diminutive size and portly physique.
“Even if it may not look like it, I love to play sport, and especially basketball,” Mr. Bach, a former Olympic fencer, says Mr. Kim told him.
Mr. Kim has a way of overturning expectations. When he inherited power in North Korea in December 2011, expert opinion was he’d be toppled or killed within a year. Filmed red-faced and sobbing at his father’s wake, the pudgy would-be dictator in his late 20s didn’t seem up to the Darwinian task of extending the bloody Kim dynasty to a third generation.
Six years on, he is a bona fide 21st century tyrant prepping for a planned June 12 meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump—a summit Mr. Kim’s father and grandfather only dreamed about. Along the way, he acquired intercontinental ballistic missiles faster than many scientists thought possible, and threatened to use them on U.S. cities during a harrowing nuclear standoff.
At home, he is digging in for a long rule by replacing older apparatchiks with younger ones loyal to him. He has killed rival family members, staged public executions and is keeping some 100,000 people in gulags, say United Nations investigators who accused him of crimes against humanity in 2014. He’s had more defense ministers so far than served in all North Korea’s previous 50 years.
Once seen as a sadistic recluse who lacked the confidence to meet a single foreign leader during his first six years in power, Mr. Kim is now on a diplomacy blitz. Since March, he has met twice with both the president of South Korea and China’s leader and proposed a summit with Mr. Trump—all while gaining a reputation as a sure-footed host who toasts guests with fine wines and softens his fearsome reputation with humor.
While the North Korea nuclear crisis is still unfolding and Mr. Kim’s future is far from certain, the man Mr. Trump is gearing up to meet has turned out to be a far-more-calculating, brutal and ambitious operator than was once believed, raising the challenges for Washington in the years ahead.