April 23, 2020 09:40
North Korea remains silent on rumors that leader Kim Jong-un is dangerously ill, giving rise to even more frantic speculation among pundits.
Fox News quoted a U.S. intelligence source as saying that the American government has "extensive contingency plans" to deal with Kim's possible death, while Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun said Kim's younger sister Yo-jong is ready to assume power in an emergency.
But there have been no further reports of any public activities by Kim Jong-un or any fresh pictures of the leader in the North Korean state media that would normally be published to dispel such rumors.
The official [North] Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday reported that Kim replied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who had written to Kim on his late grandfather's birthday last week. But it published no new pictures of Kim, who was conspicuously absent from the annual annual ceremonial event, to go with the story.
South Korea has denied reports in the Daily NK website and other media that Kim is at death's door after emergency cardiovascular surgery. Cheong Wa Dae earlier said it believes Kim to be staying in Wonsan in the east. U.S. President Donald Trump also denied any privileged knowledge of Kim's health but added he wishes him well.
A top U.S. military official said he assumes that Kim is still in full control of his country's armed forces. "I assume that [Kim] is still in full control of the [North] Korean nuclear forces and the [North] Korean military forces," said Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten in a Pentagon press briefing Wednesday.
But Yoon Sang-hyun, the head of the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, said it is "unusual" for North Korea not to issue a response so far.
U.S. and South Korean intelligence rely on spy satellites, electronic eavesdropping and human intelligence for news of Kim, which seems to be the basis of Cheong Wa Dae's comments. But Cheong Wa Dae does not appear to have any more insight.
One intelligence source said, "We've been trying to contact the North, but I believe such efforts were unsuccessful."
Several RC-135W (Rivet Joint) reconnaissance aircraft flew over the Korean Peninsula on Wednesday to get a glimpse of intelligence on North Korea.
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