- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

SEOUL | North Korea’s Kim Jong-il is on the road to recovery from a stroke and still in control of his isolated country’s communist regime, South Korea suggested Wednesday, disputing reports that the leader is gravely ill.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak convened a meeting of top security ministers, who were briefed on intelligence that indicates Mr. Kim was recovering, said Lee Dong-kwan, the president’s chief spokesman.

The North Korean leader was currently “not seen to be in a serious condition,” the spokesman said in a statement after the meeting late Wednesday, citing the contents of the briefing.

Earlier, South Korea’s spy agency told a closed-door meeting of lawmakers it had intelligence showing the 66-year-old Mr. Kim’s condition had much improved, an agency official said on the condition of anonymity, citing official policy.

South Korea’s optimistic view of Mr. Kim’s health came as North Korea moved to try and dispel fears about his health after he failed to appear for a key national ceremony Tuesday.

“There are no problems,” Kim Yong-nam, Pyongyang’s No. 2 leader and ceremonial head of state, told Japan’s Kyodo News agency.

Song Il-ho, a senior North Korean diplomat, called reports of Mr. Kim’s illness “worthless” and a “conspiracy plot,” adding that Western media “have reported falsehoods before,” according to Kyodo’s dispatch from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

Despite the willingness of the North Korean officials to speak through a foreign news agency, their own state media apparatus remained mum on Mr. Kim’s condition.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing lawmakers briefed by the spy agency, reported that Mr. Kim suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, but he remains conscious and “is able to control the situation.”

The spy agency also reported to lawmakers that Mr. Kim is in a “recoverable and manageable condition,” and that the North is not in a “power vacuum,” Yonhap said.

Intelligence agency officials said they could not confirm the Yonhap report.

Despite the reassurances, little was publicly known about Mr. Kim, whose health has been a focus of intense interest because his fate is thought to be closely tied to that of the totalitarian state.

Speculation that Mr. Kim may have become ill intensified after he missed a parade Tuesday commemorating the communist state’s founding 60 years ago. That followed weeks of being absent from public view and rumors that foreign doctors were brought in to treat him.

South Korea’s president instructed his top security ministers and aides to “carefully and thoroughly” prepare for any possible situation that can occur regarding Mr. Kim’s health, said Mr. Lee, the presidential spokesman.

Seoul’s Defense Ministry said there had been no unusual North Korean military movement and the heavily armed border between the two sides remained quiet.

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