- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2009

They’re tanned, they’re fit — well, they’re upright, anyway. A pair of world leaders who have been missing in action for many months surfaced in tandem on Friday just in time for a post-Inaugural audience — and a new administration in Washington.

Rumors of their demise have been greatly exagerrated. And there are pictures to prove it.

It’s a double billing, starring former Cuban premiere Fidel Castro in a slick Adidas track suit with a very comely lady escort: Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. And as a kind of grand bonus, the planet was also treated to a photograph of North Korean President Kim Jong Il in what looks like Fred Astaire mode. He’s bowing, he’s shaking hands, he’s offering a toast, he’s charming.

In recent days, both men were rumored to be gravely ill, dead, sick, depressed, bedridden or in a persisent vegetative state — the hair-raising scenarios were many.

But they appear pretty chipper — and their press attaches were obviously on the ball. Timing is everything.

The office of President Kirchner released the photo of Mr. Castro Friday, two days after the pair reportedly met in Havana.

The former Cuban dictator looked well and received Ms. Kirschner on his feet “like a gentleman,” she said in the aftermath.

It is the first released photo of the octogenarian since an image showed him in meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in November. Castro essentially left the public stage in 2006 after surgery, handing the presidency over to to his brother Raul in 2008.

In conjunction with the new photo, the former leader also had a message for his people.

“I’m well, but I insist that no-one should feel obligated by…my ailing health or my death,” the elder Castro wrote Friday in Granma, the nation’s state run newspaper — hinting that he would not be around forever.

He also praised the sincerity of President Obama, though he also offered some cautionary talk.

“Despite all the tests he has been put through, Obama has not faced the most important of all. What will he do when the immense power he has grasped soon proves to be totally useless in overcoming the intractable, opposing contradictions of the [capitalist] system?” Castro asked.

Meanwhile, a buoyant Kim Il Jong met with a Chinese envoy in Pyongyang on Friday, the moments closely documented by state news photographers from both North Korea and China. For months, unconfirmed rumors that the Communist leader had suffered a stroke last summer had circulated in the press and among some intelligence analysts in South Korea.

He seemed remarkably upbeat in the photos with Wang Jiarui, chief of the International Department of the Communist Party of China — who hand-delivered delivered a cordial letter of “spring festival greetings” from Chinese President Hu Jintao, said Xinhua, China’s official news agency.

But Kim had news of his own.

“The North Korean side will commit itself to the denuclearization of the North Korean peninsula, and hopes to co-exist peacefully with other involved parties,” the leader said, according to Xinhua. “North Korea is not willing to see tensions emerge in the peninsula, and is willing to strengthen consultation and cooperation with China to push forward the six-party talks.

Insiders say that the event is weighty indeed. The new White House administration, apparently, is quite a draw for both countries.

“The meeting appears to be aimed at telling Obama that Mr. Kim has no problem with his health and is well enough to meet with Obama’s envoy,” Kim Yong-hyun, an analyst at Seoul’s Dongguk University told The Associated Press.

The Chinese are also poised to make nice to Mr. Kim.

“It serves our fundamental interests to ensure healthy and steady development of the China-U.S. relationship in the coming years and beyond,” Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Zhou Wenzhong told an audience at New York University on Thursday.

“From mutual estrangement and antagonism to responsible stakeholders and constructive partners, the bilateral relationship is more mature and stable,” he said. “This is certainly beyond the wildest imagination of most people.”


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