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(LEAD) Top U.S. military official assumes N.K. leader still in control of armed forces

All News 02:59 April 23, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with details, background)
By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, April 22 (Yonhap) -- A top U.S. military official said Wednesday he assumes North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is still in full control of his country's armed forces despite reports he may be seriously ill.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten said he has no information to add to the reports about Kim's health.

"I can tell you that in the intel, I don't have anything to confirm or deny anything along those lines," he said during a Pentagon press briefing. "So I assume that Kim Jong-un is still in full control of the Korean nuclear forces and the Korean military forces. I have no reason not to assume that."

This AFP file photo shows U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten. (Yonhap)

The remarks follow a CNN report Monday that cited an unidentified U.S. official as saying that the U.S. is looking into intelligence that Kim is in "grave danger" after a surgery.

An earlier report by the Daily NK, a South Korean internet news outlet specializing in North Korea news, said Kim has been receiving medical treatment following a cardiovascular procedure.

South Korean officials dismissed the reports, saying no unusual signs have been detected in the North to suggest that something may be wrong with the leader's health.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday the U.S. doesn't know if the reports are true.

"I can only say this: I wish him well. Because if he is in the kind of condition that the reports say, that the news is saying, that's a very serious condition, as you know, but I wish him well," he said at a White House coronavirus press briefing.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to offer details.

"As the president said last evening ... we're watching closely what's taking place there, but I don't have anything to add," he said at a press briefing Wednesday.

Speculation about Kim's whereabouts started after he apparently skipped an annual visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun last Wednesday on the occasion of the 108th birthday of his late grandfather and state founder, Kim Il-sung.

Kim was last seen April 11 in state media reports about his presiding over a political bureau meeting of the ruling Workers' Party, where he called for "strict national countermeasures to thoroughly check the infiltration of the virus."

Meanwhile, the U.S. military stands ready to continue its mission to defend against any ballistic missile launch from North Korea, according to another U.S. general.

"We have seen continuous activity," Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, chief of the U.S. Northern Command, told reporters Tuesday, referring to Pyongyang's recent short-range missile tests.

"It's not necessarily outside of the realm of historical norms, especially given some of the significant dates that have gone by. And so we, as always, we're ready to defend the homeland with the ballistic missile capability, defense capability to be able to respond," he said.


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