"There was some hope out there," said Joseph DeTrani, a former CIA and State Department official who negotiated with the North Koreans and has studied the Kim dynasty closely. "He inspired some hope."
Days after Kim Jong Il's state funeral on Dec. 28, 2011, North Korea signaled a willingness to negotiate with the United States — but the conciliatory posture soon yielded to confusion. North Korea watchers wondered whether a power struggle was playing out behind the scenes of an outwardly smooth transition.
Still, during his first months in power, Kim Jong Un took on a highly visible role, a stark change compared with his reclusive father. His status was quickly bolstered with titles that conveyed that Kim was in control of the armed forces and the communist Worker's Party, an ascension to full authority far quicker than his father's.
The new leader became a fixture of government propaganda videos, which are aired domestically and uploaded on the Internet. Trailed by doting, crusty generals, Kim was shown rallying star-struck troops in the field and planning attacks on the United States in a war room.
He also was portrayed as keen to show a different side of his country, which is notorious for its brutal labor camps and millions of malnourished citizens.
The gregarious statesman was shown touring improbably modern venues in Pyongyang, including a fitness center and a lavish floating restaurant. This past summer, apparently on a whim, he invited dignitaries, including a British diplomat, to ride a roller coaster at a new amusement park.
Unlike his father and grandfather, Kim has made his wife, Ri Sol Ju, a public figure, taking her to events where they are photographed clapping and smiling.
"Kim Jong Un is a much better politician than his father," said former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who has been invited to North Korea on official visits. "He gives better speeches and seems more naturally at ease with people in his greetings and his physical movements."