SEOUL — Watchers of the reclusive North Korean regime are buzzing about reports that might indicate a change in the cult of personality surrounding Kim Jong Il.

In the first move, North Korea’s official news services have dropped using the “Dear Leader” appellation that has accompanied Kim’s name in every news report since he took over power from his late father.

Instead, the reports refer to him by the more unwieldy title of “general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, chairman of the DPRK National Defense Commission and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army.”

Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994 and transferred power to his son, was known throughout his rule as “Great Leader.”

In another move noted by North Korea watchers this week, several reports said some of the ubiquitous portraits of Kim Jong Il have been taken down from public buildings.

The order to remove the portraits was issued three weeks ago by Kim himself, South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency reported, citing an unnamed source with “good connections” to North Korea.

According to Yonhap, the South Korean National Intelligence Service was trying to confirm the policy change had taken place and to decide what it would mean.

South Korean officials speculated the move might be tied to remaking current world perception of the regime as a “cult of personality” focusing on Kim.

The United States and North Korea have been embroiled in a dispute over the North’s nuclear ambitions. Pyongyang claims to possess what it calls a “war deterrent,” widely taken to mean nuclear weapons of unknown number and capabilities. Washington has demanded an immediate, full and verifiable end to the nuclear program.

Six-party talks — involving the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia — stalled earlier this year amid speculation the North was waiting for U.S. election results.

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