N. Korea's Kim Said to Be Recovering From Stroke

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 11, 2008

TOKYO, Sept. 11 -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Il probably suffered a cerebral hemorrhage last month, but his condition is not critical and there is "no power vacuum" in the communist North, according to the chief of the South Korean National Intelligence Service.

Briefing a parliamentary committee in Seoul, the intelligence chief, Kim Sung-ho, said Wednesday that Kim Jong Il's condition is "manageable" and he is recovering, according to Won Hye-young, a committee member who attended the briefing.

"Although he is not in a state to walk around, he is conscious. . . . We understand that he can control the situation and he is not in an unstable condition," the intelligence chief told the lawmakers, Won said.

The South Korean intelligence chief also told the committee that "Kim had an operation by foreign doctors," according to Yonhap, a Seoul-based news agency.

Late Wednesday, the office of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said that the North Korean leader, who is 66 or 67 and has a history of health problems, is "not seen to be in a serious condition."

U.S. intelligence sources had said Tuesday that Kim might be gravely ill from a stroke he had in mid-August. He has not been seen in public since then, and his no-show on Tuesday night at an important anniversary parade in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang raised concern about the stability of his totalitarian government and the fate of stalled negotiations to end the country's nuclear weapons program.

The No. 2 leader in North Korea told a Japanese news agency on Wednesday that Kim is fine, and a top North Korean diplomat characterized reports of Kim's health as a "conspiracy plot."

In South Korea, where there are legions of government, academic and journalistic observers of North Korea, a consensus emerged Wednesday: Kim, who has a history of heart ailments, probably had a serious health setback in August, but the worst seems to be over and he is apparently lucid.

The South Korean government said it was on "high alert" as it tried to figure out what had happened to the leader of a government that has repeatedly threatened to reduce its neighbors to ashes. The South, though, reported no unusual movement of troops in the North or increased military radio traffic that would suggest disarray.

"The starting point on all this should be that we don't know diddly about what is going on inside that closed country," said Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Honolulu. "Kim has a tendency to drop out of sight when there is a tough decision to make."

What is known with certainty is that Kim faces tough decisions about allowing outside verification that his government, which two years ago detonated a small nuclear device, is indeed abandoning its nuclear ambitions.

It is also known that North Korea's on-again, off-again cooperation with the United States, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea in the process of dismantling its nuclear weapons program is off track.

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