AGENCIES, Washington: Not much information has trickled out from North Korea regarding the health or whereabouts of its reclusive leader Kim Jong Un. Apparently, he was last seen on April 11 discussing coronavirus prevention and electing his sister as an alternate member of the political bureau of the ruling Workers’ Party, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
Now, there are rumours about a possible change in leadership and successor. For the US, the stakes are high as since 2017, the administration has been working on the contain the rise of this nuclear-armed state.
The US is closely monitoring the situation and its demand for North Korea’s denuclearisation remains unchanged no matter who is in charge in Pyongyang. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this on Wednesday, amid speculation about Un’s health.
US officials including President Donald Trump have declined to discuss Kim’s condition after a report, downplayed by South Korea, that the reclusive authoritarian was ailing.
Pompeo has said he had met Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, whose recent elevation in the hierarchy raised pundits’ view that she could be a successor.
“I did have a chance to meet her a couple of times, but the challenge remains the same — the goal remains unchanged — whoever is leading North Korea,” Pompeo told Fox News. He renewed the US promise to bring the North Korean people “a brighter future” if the leadership gives up nuclear weapons.
“They’ve got to denuclearize. We’ve got to do so in a way that we can verify. That’s true no matter who is leading North Korea,” he said.
Pompeo flew to North Korea four times in 2018 as he arranged historic summits between Trump and Kim after more than a half century of enmity between the two countries. But hopes for a breakthrough before US elections in November have dimmed, with North Korea firing off rockets and the United States refusing Pyongyang’s demands for sanctions relief before full denuclearization.
Daily NK, an online media outlet run mostly by North Korean defectors, said Kim had undergone a cardiovascular procedure earlier this month triggered by heavy smoking, obesity and fatigue.
CNN also quoted a US official as saying Kim was in “grave danger” after surgery. However, South Korea, which is technically still at war with the North, said it had detected no unusual movements in its neighbour.