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(LEAD) U.S. closely watching reports on N.K. leader's health: nat'l security adviser

All News 02:51 April 22, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more remarks by O'Brien, details; CHANGES headline)
By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, April 21 (Yonhap) -- The United States is closely watching reports on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's alleged health issues but does not know his current condition, the U.S. national security adviser said Tuesday.

Robert O'Brien was responding to recent reports that Kim may be seriously ill following a cardiovascular procedure.

"We are watching the reports closely and we will have to see," he told reporters at the White House. "As everyone here knows, the North Koreans are parsimonious with the information that they put out about many things, especially when it comes to their leaders and so we will keep a close eye on it."

This AP file photo shows U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien. (Yonhap)

This AP file photo shows U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien. (Yonhap)

O'Brien said it is too early to discuss who would succeed Kim in the dynastic regime should his health fail.

"We've had three leaders in a row of North Korea who have been in the family, so I think basic assumption would be that maybe it would be someone in the family," he said. "But again, it's too early to talk about that because we just don't know, you know, what condition Chairman Kim is in and we'll have to see how it plays out."

South Korean officials said they detected nothing unusual inside North Korea and cannot confirm anything with regard to the leader's alleged health issues.

CNN reported that Kim is in "grave danger" after a surgery. Fox News cited intelligence sources as saying that the U.S. has contingency plans in place for Kim's eventual death, including relying on China to manage the likely humanitarian crisis that will follow inside North Korea.

Rumors about Kim's whereabouts began to surface when he apparently skipped the annual commemoration of the birthday of his late grandfather and national founder, Kim Il-sung, last week.

Kim was last seen on April 11 in state media reports about a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party.

Asked when President Donald Trump last heard from Kim, O'Brien dodged a direct answer.

"I'm not going to get into his conversations with foreign leaders or when he spoke with them, but he has been in contact with Chairman Kim in the somewhat recent past," he said.

Trump claimed Saturday that he recently received a "nice note" from Kim. North Korea denied shortly afterward that any message had been sent.

The two men have maintained personal correspondence despite stalled negotiations on dismantling the North's nuclear weapons program.

They held three meetings -- once in 2018 and twice in 2019 -- to try to reach a deal on denuclearizing North Korea in exchange for U.S. sanctions relief.

Negotiations have faltered since the second summit in Vietnam in February 2019 ended without an agreement.


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