South Korea says Kim is on the road to recovery

By: rf
By: rf

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- 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.

President Lee Myung-bak convened a meeting of top security ministers, who were briefed on intelligence that indicates 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 Kim's condition had much improved, an agency official said on condition of anonymity, citing official policy.

South Korea's optimistic view of 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 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 Kim's condition.

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

The spy agency also reported to lawmakers that 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 Kim, whose health has been a focus of intense interest because his fate is believed to be closely tied to that of the totalitarian state.

"If he had surgery, it means it's serious," Kim Jong-sung, a neurology professor at Seoul's Asan Medical Center, said regarding a cerebral hemorrhage.

The condition can result in death, paralysis, difficulty in speaking and other disabilities, although if it is minor, recovery is possible without long-term affects. Surgery is generally only considered in the most serious cases, he said.

Still, the professor said that if North Korea's leader underwent surgery and has no paralysis, he could have suffered a cerebral aneurysm - a kind of cerebral hemorrhage that accounts for about 6 percent of all cases.

"If it's cerebral aneurysm and surgery is done well and quickly, there can be recovery without any disabilities," he said.

Speculation that Kim Jong Il 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 Kim's health, said Lee Dong-kwan, 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.

Kim, who has been rumored to be in varying degrees of ill health for years, took over North Korea upon the death of his father in 1994.

North Korea has been locked in a standoff with the United States since 2002 over its nuclear ambitions. The country carried out its first nuclear test in 2006, but agreed last year to disable its nuclear facilities in exchange for economic aid and political concessions.

The negotiations hit a snag again recently with the two sides at odds over how to verify North Korea's accounting of its nuclear programs. Washington has delayed its promised removal of Pyongyang from the U.S. terrorism blacklist.

Kim Yong Nam, the North's No. 2 leader, mentioned the dispute in his talk with Kyodo.

"The United States was supposed to take us off the list of state sponsors of terrorism ... but it is delaying that," he said.

He also expressed optimism for a positive conclusion.

"Once time passes and we continue to try to find a way, I believe we can solve this," he said.


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