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Inside the Ring
Kim making decisions
A senior U.S. official says North Korean leader Kim Jong-il suffered some kind of incapacitating illness but the totalitarian leader remains in the decision-making chain.
The official, who is knowledgeable on events in North Korea, said reports were circulating weeks before Mr. Kim failed to appear at a 60th-anniversary celebration on Sept. 9, although his absence at the event was the major indicator that North Korea’s leadership was not functioning normally. “That’s an event he had to be at,” the official said.
Nevertheless, the illness is not seriously affecting Mr. Kim’s rule over North Korea, the official said. “This is a man who is not incapacitated; this is a man who is still very much aware of what’s going on. And the sense you have is either he’s in-putting, or he’s made enough policy decisions prior to his illness so that everything is just moving forward.”
The official said all indications are that the illness has not affected any decisions coming out of Pyongyang, including how to deal with the six-nation nuclear talks.
Mr. Kim is said to have suffered a stroke and has not been seen in public since mid-August. Several foreign doctors were dispatched to Pyongyang and are believed to be treating him.
“We see North Korea continuing since the middle of August, when Kim Jong-il disappeared from the scene,” the official said. “There’s a medical issue that’s affecting him. But there has not been any manifestation of any medical issue affecting him that seemingly has impinged on their ability to make decisions on issues of critical importance to North Korea’s well-being.”
Additionally, there are no unusual military activities in North Korea, such as heightened alert status, nor have any unusual political activities by the ruling Korean Workers’ Party been detected, the official said.
The official said Kim Jong-il has three sons who are possible successors. The oldest son, Kim Jong-nam, 37, spends most of his time outside the country, mainly in China. Two younger sons, Kim Jong-chul, 27, and Kim Jong-woon, 24, are working for the Korean Workers’ Party.
“But there are no indications that any of the sons have been groomed to replace his father,” the official said. “The sons are there, and they’ve got to be part of an equation [on succession] down the road, although we’re not looking at succession now because there is no sense that Kim is terminally ill and will not be at the helm to make decisions.”
Mr. Kim’s power centers include the National Defense Commission, made up of senior generals, and the Korean Workers’ Party. One powerful official in the ruling circle is Kim Ok, a woman who serves as his personal secretary and whom the official described as a very influential confidante.” Another key official close to Mr. Kim is brother-in-law Chang Sung-taek, who is an important and experienced adviser.
“We know the key players who would be working with Kim during this period of illness,” the official said, adding that there are no signs at this point of any emergencies. The official said there are “gaps” in what is known about North Korea, considered one of the most closed societies on earth.
A U.S. military officer said the truck-bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, is being viewed as a major failure of local security to deal with terrorist threats.
The bombing Saturday evening took place as many foreign visitors were in the hotel for Ramadan meals. A massive truck bomb detonated, killing up to 80 people, including possibly two Western intelligence officers.
About the Author
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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