TOKYO - Kim Jong Un turns 33 on Friday, and from the North Korean leader's perspective, he has plenty to celebrate: Everyone's talking about him again.
After several years of being overshadowed by the more imminent threat of the Islamic State and jockeying with Iran for the title of scariest nuclear regime, North Korea is back on the international agenda.
Governments around the world rushed to condemn Wednesday's nuclear test - regardless of whether it involved a hydrogen bomb, as Pyongyang claimed, or an atomic device in line with its three previous tests - and the U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting. In the United States, presidential hopefuls piled on with denunciations of Kim. Hillary Clinton called him a "bully," Marco Rubio said he was a "lunatic," and Ted Cruz dubbed him a "megalomaniacal maniac."
Kim, like his father, Kim Jong Il, is often viewed as a caricature: a rotund man with a bad haircut and a worse standard outfit, who spews invective at the outside world while watching basketball games in his luxurious palaces.
But with this week's test, Kim has shown that he is no joke. He's playing the cards he has and he is exactly where he wants to be, said Michael Madden, who runs the North Korea Leadership Watch website.
"It's less than a month before the Iowa caucuses, and he's trying to put North Korea at the top of the debate and the discussion among U.S. presidential candidates," Madden said. "All of the people running for the position of commander in chief now have to talk about North Korea."
Analysts are split on whether this week's test is a sign that Pyongyang wants to return to negotiations, despite its repeated assertions that the world must now accept it as a nuclear state, or an indication that it has entirely given up on the prospect of talks.
"North Korea had come to a fork in the road where it could either pursue diplomacy or brinkmanship," said Ken Gause, a leadership expert at CNA, a research company in Arlington.
North Korea said that the "Great Successor" himself ordered Wednesday's explosion.
"Respected Kim Jong Un ... issued an order on conducting a test of the first hydrogen bomb of [North] Korea," the state-run Korean Central Television station said in a broadcast this week, showing pictures of Kim sitting at his desk and shots of handwritten instructions bearing Kim's name.