South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials confirm that the two countries are taking seriously recent reports of a deterioration in the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
The interest, first reported in South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper and confirmed by NBC News, is based on Kim’s month-long disappearance from view as well as internal reports that the 66-year-old is suffering from advanced diabetes and heart disease as well as high blood pressure.
“The National Intelligence Service has obtained information that the reclusive leader Kim’s diabetes and heart disease have been worsening. This information is more reliable than former rumors,” Chosun Ilbo reported, quoting a South Korean official.
“It is a matter of interest and concern. I wouldn’t steer you away from that,” a senior U.S. intelligence official told NBC News. “People with diabetes don’t usually get better. They can control it better, but it doesn’t get better. Is it being looked at closely? Oh, yeah. Is he on his death bed? No.”
Out of view
U.S. and South Korean officials have been watching Kim’s appearance schedule lately. He has not been seen in public since April 25, when he headed the 75th anniversary celebration of the North Korean People's Army in Pyongyang.
Since then, the Korean Central News Agency has reported only one other public appearance, on May 5, at military barracks. There was no video of that appearance and KCNA normally reports events days after they happen.
Chosun Ilbo also reported that Kim’s official activities this year are only at about half the level they were last year at this time.
Any serious health problem for the North Korean leader could complicate negotiations between the United States and North Korea, which call for the North to halt nuclear activities in return for aid.
It could also set off a power struggle among Kim’s three sons, who were born to two different women.