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en it comes to celebrating a successful rocket launch in North Korea, few people get as excited as Kim Jong-Un. But right now, it's who he's been celebrating with that's being closely watched by Western intelligence. The same three men have been appearing in pictures cheering alongside the North Korean leader, laughing, hugging, even sharing a celebratory smoke.
And as Reuters' Ju-min Park explains, they're all key figures in Kim's ambitious nuclear missile program.>> The three men have military, party and science credentials. One named Ri Pyong Chol is a top air force general educated in Russia, and another called Kim Jong Sik is a veteran rocket scientist, and lastly, Jang Chang Ha is the one who's in charge of infamous military think-tank that develops missile and nuclear program.
These three men are considered as a national hero inside the North, but blacklist by South Korea and the international community for their role in weapons program.>> Unlike most North Korean officials, they've travelled on Kim's private plane. And their behavior around him is in stark contrast to other senior aides who often tread on eggshells around the supreme leader.
Even more notably, at least two of them are not from elite families, unlike most of Pyongyang's senior figures.>> That bond tells how ambitious Kim is about missile program and what policy priorities he has now. North Korea has tested missiles in an unprecedented pace since last year, and Kim often guides these test launches and spending day and night with rocket scientists.
>> One official from the South tells Reuters Kim is raising a new generation of the ruling elite, separate from his father's aides. In the words of one expert observer, these handpicked men are the ones bringing the country's missile program into the 21st century.