Friday, July 6, 2007

North Korean Leader's Health Draws Attention

N.Korean Leader's Health Draws Attention
By JAE-SOON CHANG 07.06.07, 1:14 PM ET
Talk of reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's health emerged again this week when he made a rare public appearance looking a bit thinner and sporting less hair.

It was the first public view of the secretive Kim since late April, when he reviewed a military parade from a balcony over Pyongyang's main plaza, clapping and waving to his soldiers as they hysterically shouted cheers, appearing deeply moved by the rare glimpse of Kim.

This week, Chinese television broadcast video of Kim meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Pyongyang on Tuesday.

The 65-year-old leader - revered as a near-demigod in his totalitarian nation - brandished a big smile and looked generally well. But he also appeared to have lost some weight and hair, and South Korean news media revived speculation that he might be in poor health.

Kim's condition is of international interest because he tightly rules isolated, nuclear-armed North Korea, which is participating in a six-nation forum shepherding Pyongyang toward giving up its atomic weapons.

The new view of the leader came after unconfirmed news reports that Kim underwent some kind of medical procedure involving his heart in May, performed by doctors flown in from Germany. He was said to be so weak he could not walk more than 30 yards without resting.

In response to questions last month, the German Heart Institute Berlin said it had sent a team of doctors to North Korea to perform operations there - but not on Kim Jong Il.

Still, one of South Korea's three largest newspapers, Dong-a Ilbo, speculated this week after the video of Kim that the reported medical procedure might have made Kim "markedly leaner" and caused him to lose hair, saying such symptoms are common after heart surgery.

Kim Won-jang, a cardiologist at Seoul's Asan Medical Center, said some patients can lose appetite and thus weight after a heart operation, but not all do.

Nobody but North Korea can give a definite answer about Kim's health conditions. But the regime, which is one of the world's most closed and tolerates no independent press, has never commented on Kim's health - an absolute taboo in the communist country.

South Korea's main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said last month that Kim has long had heart disease and diabetes, but added that there was no sign the chronic ailments had progressed enough to affect his public activity.

"Our assessment of his health remains unchanged," an agency official said Friday. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as required by his office, also said the agency did not believe the report that Kim underwent a heart procedure. He declined to elaborate.

Some independent analysts also do not think Kim has any serious health problem.

"We can't assess his health conditions just by pictures, but even by the pictures, he didn't look that different from before," said Koh Yu-hwan, a respected North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University.

"I think there is no possibility of a (health) mishap, at least in the next one year or two," he added.

Paik Hak-soon, a top North Korea expert at Sejong Institute outside Seoul, agreed Kim looked a bit thinner and had less hair, but said he believes Kim's health conditions are not serious enough to affect his ability to rule. "Anybody of that age has some adult diseases," he said.

Kim has ruled North Korea with an iron fist since succeeding his late father, Kim Il Sung, the founder of the nation who built a personality cult that has survived his death.

The younger Kim, said to have a fondness for fine food, expensive alcoholic drinks like cognac and a passion for Western movies, has three known sons, but has not yet publicly designated any as his successor.

His health is of particular concern as international efforts led by the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea are gaining momentum in persuading North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.

After alarming the world by conducting its first atomic test explosion in October, North Korea pledged in February to shut down its plutonium-producing nuclear reactor in exchange for economic and political concessions.

After months of delay, caused in part by snarls in resolving a financial dispute with the U.S., the regime appears to be moving to fulfill its pledge. It reached an agreement last week with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency on how to verify and monitor the planned shutdown.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

North Korea's "Dear Leader" Kim slims down
Thu Jul 5, 2007 6:52AM BST
By Jon Herskovitz

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's trademark paunch presses a little less snugly against his jumpsuits these days, but is that due to a healthier lifestyle or is he recovering from illness?

Two South Korean dailies ran pictures on Thursday of a slimmer Kim, 65, at a meeting this week with China's foreign minister, alongside photos taken about a year ago, in which he seemed plumper and with more hair in his famed bouffant coiffure.

"Kim Jong-il is noticeably thinner," read the Dong-A Ilbo's headline.

The actual condition of the Dear Leader's health is one of the secretive state's most highly guarded secrets, known to only a small circle of intimates.

Last month, South Korea's National Intelligence Service issued a report to knock down speculation that a team of German doctors had flown to Pyongyang to perform heart surgery on him.

"Although Kim suffers from chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart problems, his health has not deteriorated enough to affect his public activities," the report said, according to a copy obtained by Yonhap news agency.

And Kim has been active in recent months, making a series of field guidance trips to army bases, factories and schools.

"The weight loss is not recent but he's been losing it gradually," said Koh Yu-hwan, an expert on the North at Seoul's Dongguk University.

"If you are overweight at his age, it's a problem," Koh said.

South Korean officials had the best look at Kim Jong-il in June 2000 when he hosted an unprecedented and unrepeated summit with then president Kim Dae-jung. The North Korean leader boasted a big belly and an appetite for rich and greasy food.

Intelligence sources said it appeared he had tried to adopt a healthier lifestyle in recent years, and might have quit smoking.

The North's official media, which treat Kim with god-like reverence, have also made a shift in their coverage of one health issue. Several stories since 2003 spoke of efforts to cut down on the number of smokers, where they published almost none before.

Kim was once a legendary eater, who demanded the best food for his table, according to a book by Kenji Fujimoto who served as his sushi chef for 13 years from 1988.

Kim ballooned in size during that period as he dined on choice pork from Denmark and caviar from Iran, all washed down with many glasses of top-of-the-range cognac.

"He's quit heavy drinking, cut back on meat a lot and also on smoking," said Jang Sung-min, a former aide to Kim Dae-jung. "When he's got to watch his diet like that, it would be natural for him to lose weight."

(With additional reporting by Jack Kim and Jessica Kim)

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Policy Watch: Korea after unification
SAPPORO, Japan, July 6 (UPI) -- It may years away, but the unification of the two Koreas is bound to occur some day -- the most likely route through the collapse of the North.
This could occur because "Dear Leader" proves to be a threat to too many in the Communist leadership, who agree to unification with the South in exchange for retaining some position of authority in the unified state. Or it could occur as a result of a succession struggle emerging as a result of the demise, incapacitation, or de-legitimation of the "Dear Leader."

However and whenever it occurs, though, the unification of Korea is likely to result in the government of the South taking over the entire country. If this indeed happens, how will this affect Korea's international relations?

Many Chinese observers fear that the unification of Korea will be bad for Beijing since this will result in an even stronger Korea allied to the United States -- and possibly U.S. troops -- on its very border. This view, however, is probably mistaken. There is an old adage about international relations with extraordinary predictive value that runs as follows: "When the purpose of an alliance comes to an end, the alliance itself comes to and end."

Thousands of U.S. troops have been deployed in South Korea for over half a century because both Washington and Seoul fear another attack from the North. Once Korea is united, however, there will no longer be a North Korea to fear or a South Korea to fear it.

Considering the rise of anti-American sentiment that has taken place in South Korea even though it remains under threat from North Korea now, Korean attitudes toward the United States are likely to be even less friendly once that threat no longer exists. Korean public opinion, then, can be expected to seek a distancing from the United States soon after unification. Most, if not all, U.S. armed forces stationed there may be withdrawn from the South since they will no longer be needed against the North.

Korean-Japanese relations may also become rockier after Korean unification. There are already important strains between South Korea and Japan even though both now fear North Korea and are allied to the United States. The elimination of the threat from the North will lead to the surfacing of these Korean-Japanese differences -- many of which stem from Korean resentment of the Japanese occupation of Korea for several decades until the end of World War II.

Relations between a united Korea and Russia, by contrast, might improve dramatically. It has been many years since Moscow was the principal backer of Pyongyang; Beijing largely took over this role even before the downfall of the Soviet Union. While their reasons for it differ, the fact that resentment toward the United States is common in both Russia and Korea will serve to bring Seoul and Moscow closer together, as will their joint ambivalence toward Japan. If it hasn't occurred already, the collapse of the North will enable Moscow and Seoul to expand their trade relations through linking the Trans-Siberian Railroad with the Korean railroad system.

The most important question, though, is how a united Korea will relate to China. If, as predicted here, a united Korea distances itself from the United States and U.S. forces withdraw from Korea, China will be very pleased. On the other hand, a united Korea -- which combines the South's technical expertise with the low-wage manpower that will undoubtedly exist for many years in the former North -- will prove to be a formidable competitor with China both for exports to other countries and for investment from them.

In addition, South Korea has refused to recognize the territorial concessions that North Korea made to China in the past. The differences between Seoul and Beijing on this issue matter little so long as Korea remains divided but could become a major source of contention between them after unification.

China, it should be noted, has managed to peacefully resolve its border issues with most of its neighbors and may also be able to do so with united Korea. On the other hand, the mistrust between China and India stemming from the border they fought over way back in 1962 and have yet to agree upon shows that failure to resolve a border disagreement can have a long-term negative effect.

If united Korea's relations with China are relatively good, then Korea can afford to be relatively independent of the United States and Japan and friendly with Russia. If, on the other hand, united Korea's relations with China are relatively poor, Russia is likely to be neither willing nor able to help Korea against it.

Korea, then, may find itself relying once again on its old allies -- the United States and Japan -- despite its desire not to have to do so.


(Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University and a visiting fellow at Hokkaido University's Slavic Research Center.)

May shut down nuclear reactor early: N Korea

6 July 2007

SEOUL - North Korea said Friday it is considering shutting down its nuclear reactor as soon as a first shipment of heavy fuel reaches the Stalinist state as part of a nuclear disarmament pact.

Energy starved North Korea agreed in February to shutdown and seal its key Yongbyon reactor, which produces the raw material for bomb-making plutonium, in return for 50,000 tons of oil from South Korea.

But the North Korean foreign ministry said the shutdown could now occur ‘without waiting for the total quantity of heavy oil to reach its port.’

‘(North Korea) is now earnestly examining even the issue of suspending the operation of its nuclear facilities earlier than expected, that is from the moment the first shipment of heavy oil ... is made,’ the spokesman said in a statement carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency.

South Korea promised to send its first shipment of fuel oil to its impoverished neighbour next Thursday, amid efforts to persuade the communist state quickly to shut down its nuclear weapons programme.

The South’s Unification Ministry said Friday that 6,200 tons of heavy fuel oil would leave southeast Ulsan port for the North’s Sonbong port on July 12.

The North’s decision to consider speeding up the closure was prompted by ‘the desire to facilitate the process of the six-party talks,’ the foreign ministry spokesman said.

Six-nation talks -- which involve the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the United States, began in 2003 in an effort to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme.

The North tested its first atomic weapon last October.

A timetable for the next six-nation talks may be announced by host China next week, South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy Chun Yung-Woo said Friday.

‘There’s an expectation that China may know each countries’ situation by next week and make a decision on a date,’ Chun said upon arrival at Seoul’s airport after a trip to China.

‘We can predict a date depending on the arrival of the oil and what action North Korea will take. It would be good for the six-party talks to restart after North Korea shuts down its Yongbyon facilities,’ he added.

As part of the six-nation deal brokered in February, the North will receive another 950,000 tons of oil or equivalent aid, and major diplomatic concessions, if it permanently disables its nuclear plants and declares all its programmes. The South is paying for the first tranche.

The North said Friday that six-party members should speed up plans to provide the remaining 950,000 tons of heavy oil as part of the agreement.

‘It is a stark fact already known to the world through the agreement that the DPRK (North Korea) cannot unilaterally suspend the operation of its nuclear facilities unless other participating countries fulfill their commitments,’ the foreign ministry spokesman said.

UN nuclear watchdog inspectors confirmed last Saturday after a preliminary visit to North Korea that it intends to shut down Yongbyon.

The International Atomic Energy board will meet in Vienna on Monday to authorise a second mission to monitor and verify the shutdown.

A nuclear inspector said Friday his agency plans an ‘intensive’ presence in North Korea for the first few months.

‘For the first couple of months, there will be an intensive presence and quite a large number of inspectors monitoring the nuclear facilities,’ said Malcolm Nicholas, section head of the IAEA’s department of safeguards.

Nicholas, quoted by Yonhap news agency, told a Seoul forum the agency would reduce the number of inspectors after the initial shutdown stage, but that would not interfere with monitoring efforts.

S. Korea to ship 6,200 tons of fuel oil to N. Korea next Thursday

By Sohn Suk-joo
SEOUL, July 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will make the first shipment of heavy fuel oil to North Korea next Thursday as part of a six-party deal calling for the communist state to take steps to denuclearize in exchange for economic rewards and other incentives, the Unification Ministry confirmed Thursday.

"The first shipment of 6,200 tons of heavy fuel oil will leave Ulsan port for Sonbong port in the North at 12:00 p.m. on July 12," the ministry said in a statement. "SK Energy has been chosen to provide 50,000 tons of oil."
The date of delivery, originally set for July 14, has been advanced as North Korea is moving to shut down its main nuclear reactor under the Feb. 13 aid-for-disarmament deal with South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia. The five regional players have engaged North Korea in the six-party nuclear disarmament talks since 2003.

With the early oil delivery, South Korea expects that North Korea will accelerate its process of shutting down its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, about 90 kilometers north of Pyongyang.

North Korea is entitled to 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil as a reward for a series of steps to shut down and disable its key nuclear facilities. South Korea is responsible for the first shipment of 50,000 tons.

Last Saturday, working-level officials from the two Koreas agreed on the shipping arrangements. The South Korean portion of the aid should be sent within two weeks. The remaining 950,000 tons, to be split equally between the five parties involved in the six-way talks, will be given when the North takes further steps to disarm.

The cost of the aid is to be shouldered equally by the other nations in the six-party talks. But Japan has vowed not to provide any assistance to the North until the decades-old issue of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang is resolved.
Implementation of the February deal had been delayed pending resolution of a banking dispute over US$25 million of the North's funds that were once frozen at a Macau bank. The issue was resolved in June after the money was transferred to Pyongyang with the help of the U.S. and Russian central banks.

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