Kim Jong-Un made his first public appearance for nearly two weeks today when he visited his grandfather's tomb to mark the 101st anniversary of the North Korea founder's birth.
The warmongering dictator made a midnight trip to the Kumsusan mausoleum to pay his respects to Kim Il-Sung at the start of three days of national celebrations.
He had not been seen since April 1, prompting speculation he was becoming less inclined to follow through with threats to attack the United States, South Korea and Japan after new U.N. sanctions were imposed in response to its latest nuclear arms test in February.
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Despot: North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un visits a mausoleum for his deceased father and grandfather at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang ni his first public appearance in two weeks
This has been ratcheted up over the past fortnight after intelligence suggested North Korea was planning to test-fire a mid-range ballistic missile capable of reaching U.S. bases in the Pacific.
But during that time, Kim has not reportedly been out in public since a parliamentary session at the beginning of the month.
According to the Yonhap news agency, his absence was 'not unusual', but had sparked debate that 'he might be tempted to tone down fiery threats of provocations'.
The country marked the anniversary celebrations today with mass gatherings and flowers, although there was no sign of tensions easing over its sabre-rattling nuclear programme.
Out in force: A huge crowd gathers in Pyongyang to celebrate the 101st anniversary of the birth of North Korea founder Kim Il-Sung
Followers: North Korean soldiers, workers and students place flowers before the statues of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung (left) and his son, late leader Kim Jong-il at Mansudae in Pyongyang
Pariah state: North Koreans bow to bronze statues of North Korea founder Kim Il-sung (left) and late leader Kim Jong-il on horseback at Mansudae in Pyongyang
The United States and Japan has opened the door to new nuclear talks with North Korea if the rogue state lowered tensions and honoured past agreements, even as it rejected South Korea's latest offer of dialogue as a 'crafty trick'.
U.S. secretary of state John Kerry told reporters in Tokyo that North Korea would find 'ready partners' in America if it began abandoning its nuclear programme.
South Korea's Defence Ministry said it remained on guard against any missile launch to coincide with the Day of the Sun, the date state founder Kim Il-Sung was born, although such fears appeared unjustified as the day passed.
'The military is not easing up on its vigilance on the activities of the North's military with the view that they can conduct a provocation at any time,' a ministry spokesman said.
In the North's capital, Pyongyang, the anniversary was marked with a festival of flowers named after Kim, the grandfather of the North's unpredictable new leader, Kim Jong-Un.
Tribute: North Koreans place flowers before the statues (unseen) of North Korean founder Kim Il-Sung and his son, late leader Kim Jong-il
Oblivious: Tensions remain high on the Korean peninsula over the North's missile and nuclear programmes
Paying respects: Soldiers offer flowers for Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at Mansu Hill in Pyongyang
North Korea's own media gave little indication today of how high the tensions are.
The Rodong Sinmun, the Workers' Party newspaper, featured photos and coverage of current leader Kim Jong Un's overnight visit to the Kumsusan mausoleum to pay respects to his grandfather.
There was only one line at the end of the article vowing to bring down the 'robber-like U.S. imperialists'.
Kim Jong Un's renovation of the memorial palace that once served as his grandfather's presidential offices was opened to the public today, the vast cement plaza replaced by fountains, park benches, trellises and tulips.
Braving the cold, grey weather, people lined up in droves to lay bouquets of fake flowers at the bronze statues of Kim and his son, late leader Kim Jong Il, in downtown Pyongyang as they do for every major holiday in the highly militarised country, where loyalty to the Kims and to the state are drummed in citizens from an early age.
Business as usual: North Korean soldiers work in the field with shovels and plant trees at Hwanggumpyong economic zone as seen from across the border in China
Toiling the land: North Korean women work in a coal yard on the river bank as seen from across the border in China in Sinuiju, North Korea
They queued at roadside snack stands for rations of peanuts, a holiday tradition. Cheers and screams from a soccer match filled the air.
'Although the situation is tense, people have got bright faces and are very happy,' said Han Kyong Sim, a drink stand worker.
Monday marked the official start of the new year according to North Korea's 'juche' calendar, which begins with the day of Kim Il Sung's birth in 1912.
But unlike last year, the centennial of his birthday, there are no big parades in store this week, and North Koreans were planning to use it as a day to catch up with friends and family.
But while there has almost no sense of crisis in Pyongyang, North Korea's official posture toward the outside appears to be as hardline as ever.
Meanwhile, Japan's foreign minister Fumio Kishida also demanded a resolution to a dispute concerning Japanese citizens abducted decades ago by North Korean officials.
The diplomats seemed to point the way for a possible revival of the six-nation talks that have been suspended for four years.
China has long pushed for the process to resume without conditions. But the U.S. and allies South Korea and Japan fear rewarding North Korea for its belligerence and the endless repetition of a cycle of tensions and failed talks that have prolonged the crisis.
Up in flames: Effigies of Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong Un are set alight by South Korean protesters during an anti-North Korea rally in Seoul
Up in arms: South Koreans protest against the North's missile programme which many fear will spark a nuclear war
Mr Kerry's message of openness to diplomacy was clear, however unlikely the chances appeared that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's government would meet the conditions.
'I'm not going to be so stuck in the mud that an opportunity to actually get something done is flagrantly wasted because of a kind of predetermined stubbornness,' Mr Kerry told US-based journalists.
'You have to keep your mind open. But fundamentally, the concept is they're going to have to show some kind of good faith here so we're not going to around and around in the same-old, same-old.'
Tensions have run high on the Korean Peninsula for months, with North Korea testing a nuclear device and its intercontinental ballistic missile technology.
The reclusive communist state has also issued almost daily threats that have included possible nuclear strikes against the United States. Analysts and foreign officials say that is still beyond the North Koreans' capability.
While many threats have been dismissed as bluster, U.S. and South Korea say they believe the North in the coming days may test a mid-range missile designed to reach as far as Guam, the U.S. territory in the Pacific where the Pentagon is deploying a land-based missile-defence system.
Willing to be 'ready partners': U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) tours the Zojoji Buddhist Temple in Tokyo as he opens to the door to new nuclear talks with North Korea
Japan is the last stop on a 10-day trip overseas for Mr Kerry, who visited Seoul and Beijing as well in recent days.
In South Korea, he strongly warned North Korea not to launch a missile and reaffirmed U.S. defence of its allies in the region. In China, he secured a public pledge from Beijing, the lone government with significant influence over North Korea, to rid the North of nuclear weapons.
Before flying back to the United States, Mr Kerry told students at the Tokyo Institute of Technology that the important thing was staying united on North Korea.
At each stop along his trip, Mr Kerry stressed that the United States wanted a peaceful resolution of the North Korea situation six decades after a ceasefire ended the Korean War.
But North Korea yesterday served a reminder of the difficult task ahead. Its Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said the government had no intention of talking with Seoul unless the South abandoned its confrontational posture, as the North called it.
Wants dialogue: Mr Kerry's message of openness to diplomacy was clear, but it appears unlikely that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's government would meet the conditions
Seoul had pressed North Korea to discuss restarting operations at a joint factory park on the border and President Park Geun-hye has stressed peace opportunities after taking power from her more hardline predecessor, Lee Myung-bak. The presidency expressed regret with North Korea's rebuttal yesterday.
At a news conference in Tokyo, Mr Kerry stressed that gaining China's commitment to a denuclearised North Korea was no small matter given its historically strong military and economic ties to North Korea.
But he refused to say what the Chinese were offering to do concretely to pressure the North into abiding by some of the conditions it agreed to in a 2005 deal that required it to abandon its nuclear programme.
In remarks to U.S. journalists, Mr Kerry said that under the right circumstances, he would even consider making a grand overture to North Korea's leader, such as an offer of direct talks with the U.S.
'We're prepared to reach out,' he said. Diplomacy, he added, required risk-taking and secrecy such as when President Richard Nixon engaged China in the 1970s or U.S. back-channel talks were able to end the Cuban missile crisis a decade earlier.
FROM JAPANESE COLONY TO HERMIT STATE: A POTTED HISTORY OF N KOREA
Kim Il-Sung, right, headed North Korea's government from 1948 until his death in 1994.
He gained fame in Korea as a guerilla fighter against the Japanese in Manchuria during the 1930s.
When the Soviets and Americans divided trusteeship of newly liberated Korea along the 38th parallel in 1945, Soviet-backed Kim stepped into the void left by the end of Japanese colonial rule.
When Seoul held its own separate elections in 1948, a new nation sprang up in the north that September: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, with Kim as head of state.
During his career, Kim created and served in every top title in North Korea.
Schooling, medical care and housing were all free, but in return he demanded filial, near-religious loyalty and an adherence to the militaristic rules that govern life in North Korea.
Defectors say those who oppose the party and state face imprisonment.
Kim also turned isolation into part of North Korea's creed through a 'Juche' philosophy, which calls on his people to summon self-reliance even during hard times, such as the famine of the mid-1990s that killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Before his death in 1994, he arranged for power to pass to his son, Kim Jong-il, right, who led his 24 million people with absolute power for 17 years.
He faithfully carried out his father's policy of 'military first,' devoting much of the country's scarce resources to its troops - even as his people suffered from a prolonged famine - and built the world's fifth-largest military.
Kim also sought to build up the country's nuclear arms arsenal, which culminated in North Korea's first nuclear test explosion, an underground blast conducted in October 2006. Another test came in 2009.
Attention later turned to Kim Jong Un after he was revealed as his dying father's choice among three known sons to carry the Kim dynasty into a third generation.
The process to groom him was rushed compared to the 20 years Kim Jong Il had to prepare to take over from his father, and relied heavily on the Kim family bloodline and legacy as guerrilla fighters and the nation's founders.
Kim Jong Un, right, became Supreme Leader in December 2011 and has so far characterised his rule with the same warmongering rhetoric used by his father.