"To be honest, I am sick of the whole thing," says Kim Jong Il when I ask him about the latest round of six party nuclear talks in Beijing. He looks relaxed in his grey slacks, and radiates confidence when we meet in his luxury hideaway in Pyongyang. He flashes me a smile and gently steers the interview on to a more amenable subject: His new autobiography, If You Don't Know Me By Now. Kim promises the book will lift the lid on some his most closely guarded secrets.
With his winning smile and easy charm, it's easy to see why Kim has built up such a huge following in his native country. The son of Kim Il-sung, Kim struggled to step out of his father's shadow. Last month's successful launch of the Taepodong 2 rocket over Japan has put him at the centre of the world stage, but he shows no sign of letting it go to his head. "The rocket launch meant a lot to me," he says with typical modesty. "It's been a long term ambition of mine to produce a long range missile, and it was a great feeling at the launch party. I was lucky enough to work with some fantastic people on the project, and we're hoping to co-operate in the future." I ask him what his next move will be, but Kim is staying tight-lipped. Secrecy is important to the man who has been at the forefront of building the world's most secretive state.
Kim doesn't like to talk about his personal life, and he is quick to admit that his official biography is sometimes at odds from reality. It's a controversy that has followed him since birth, but Kim accepts it as part of being from a famous family. I ask him if there's any truth in the story that a double rainbow appeared at his birth. "I get asked that a lot, and the simple answer is, I don't know. My family never really talked about. It's in all the history books, and a lot of the North Koreans I meet accept it as fact. But at the end of the day, people will believe what they want to believe. The rainbow myth has never done me any harm, so why try to change it?" In the media age, Kim is as savvy as anyone.
When we return to the subject of the book, he suddenly becomes animated again. "Advance sales in North Korea have been very encouraging, but I'm really hoping the book can reach a wider audience. I've had a lot of negative publicity abroad, so now it's my turn to set the record straight. It's a challenge, but I'm ready for it." For this expert PR master, the sky is the limit.
If You Don't Know Me By Now: The Autobiography, by Kim Jong Il published by Pyongyang Information Control Press goes on sale next week at $7.99.