TOKYO (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is probably in hospital but is unlikely to be completely unable to make decisions, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso said on Tuesday, citing intelligence sources in various countries.
U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials said last month that Kim may have suffered a stroke in August, raising questions about who will succeed as head of the communist state, and in particular of the decision-making process for its nuclear arms program.
“There’s information that it’s likely he is in hospital now,” Aso told a parliament panel.
“I think intelligence of various nations shares the understanding that while his condition is not very good, it is unlikely that he can’t make any decisions, and that there will be other moves.”
Aso’s remarks echo the view of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who said last week that the North Korean leader was still in control of his country and were no changes in the communist state arising from his health.
Meanwhile, Yonhap news agency quoted South Korea’s intelligence chief as saying Kim Jong-il seems to be well enough to perform his regular duties, quoting a lawmaker who attended a parliamentary session.
Earlier this month, North Korea’s official media reported for the first time in about 50 days that Kim had made public appearances, but experts said photos released then may have been shot months earlier, fuelling more speculation about his health.
Washington removed Pyongyang from a U.S. terrorism blacklist in October after the two countries agreed on verification measures for its nuclear program. Following the removal, Pyongyang agreed to resume dismantling its nuclear facility.
Reporting by Yoko Kubota