North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s health may be seriously compromised following a recent surgery, multiple reports say.
The Seoul-based Daily NK reported late on Monday from unnamed sources in North Korea that Kim was recovering from heart surgery he underwent on April 12. CNN has since reported, based on talks with unnamed U.S. intelligence officials, that Kim’s health is in “grave danger.”
Kim was missing recently from the April 15 celebrations for the birthday of Kim’s grandfather, the late North Korean founder Kim Il Sung. He had reportedly been seen at a government meeting four days before the celebrations and one day before the reported heart procedure.
According to Daily NK, Kim had undergone the heart procedure because of “excessive smoking, obesity and overwork.”
In a Tuesday morning interview with Fox News, White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the U.S. is closely monitoring reports about Kim’s health.
“We’re monitoring these reports very closely,” O’Brien said. “As you know, North Korea is a very closed society.”
Fox News reported the U.S. government has “extensive contingency plans” prepared in the event of Kim’s death, factoring in concerns such as an expansive humanitarian crisis resulting from the leader’s death. U.S. officials have reportedly been discussing those plans and the possibilities surrounding reports of Kim’s endangered health.
Separately South Korean officials have sought to downplay the severity of reports surrounding Kim’s health, according to the Associated Press.
“We have no information to confirm regarding rumors about Chairman Kim Jong Un’s health issue that have been reported by some media outlets,” Kang Min-seok, a spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in said. “Also, no unusual developments have been detected inside North Korea.”
Moon’s presidential office gave further indications Kim has actually been handling state affairs as normal since his surgery.
President Donald Trump and his administration have made some efforts throughout his presidency thus far to improve diplomacy with the usually closed-off North Korea and to urge Kim to end his development of nuclear weapons and denuclearize.
While talks between the two leaders emerged in 2018, negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea eventually became strained in 2019. Kim eventually issued a 2019 year-end deadline for the U.S. to propose an agreeable deal to North Korea, after which he signaled his country would discontinue the denuclearization talks. One reported sticking point in negotiations came about over disagreements on continued sanctions against North Korea and Trump’s unwillingness to lower those sanctions without further commitments from North Korea.
Since passing the 2019 year-end deadline, North Korea has carried out several missile tests in 2020. A most recent set of weapons tests was carried out on the eve of Kim Il Sung’s birthday celebrations, around the same time Kim was also reportedly scheduled for surgery.