The US has not spotted North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and is monitoring reports about his health, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday, emphasizing the administration’s warnings of a possible famine in the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.
North Korean media has not reported on Kim’s whereabouts since he presided over a meeting on April 11, provoking speculation about his health and raising concerns about instability in the nuclear-armed country that could affect other North Asian countries and the US.
“We haven’t seen him. We don’t have any information to report today, we’re watching it closely,” Pompeo told Fox News after being asked about conflicting reports about Kim’s health.
Pompeo said the US was also monitoring the situation more broadly in North Korea, which borders China, given the risk presented by the coronavirus.
“There is a real risk that there will be a famine, a food shortage, inside of North Korea too,” he added.
“We’re watching each of those things closely, as they have a real impact on our mission set, which is to ultimately denuclearize North Korea.”
Pompeo said at a State Department news conference later that the US would continue to pursue President Trump’s stalled efforts to persuade the Hermit Kingdom to give up its nukes “no matter what transpires there,” referring to a possible change in leadership.
“There’s a lot of work to do on it. We’re going to continue to focus on it.”
Trump met Kim three times in 2018 and 2019 in an attempt to persuade him to give up a nuclear weapons program that threatens the United States.
Kim balked at the US demand, asserting that America would have to end its punishing sanctions on the impoverished nation before talks could continue.
While talks have stalled, Trump has continued to hail Kim as a friend — and this week hinted that he knew about the dictator’s condition without providing details.
Pompeo did not elaborate on the risk of famine in North Korea, but a North Korean economic delegation was due in Beijing this week to discuss food supplies and trade issues as the coronavirus outbreak has severely disrupted the country’s food supply, two people with direct knowledge of the situation told Reuters.
North Korea is prone to food shortages, with as many as 1.1 million people dying of starvation and related diseases during the famines of the 1990s, according to South Korean estimates.
Officials in South Korea and the US have said Kim may be staying at a coastal resort to avoid exposure to the new coronavirus, and have expressed skepticism about media reports he had some kind of serious illness.
They caution, however, that Kim’s health and location are closely guarded secrets and reliable information is difficult to obtain in North Korea.
“I don’t have anything to add to the status of Chairman Kim,” Pompeo told reporters, while noting that “we did have the opportunity to interact with a number of North Korean officials,” including Kim’s sister and “others.”
Meanwhile, the US has contingency plans in place for an eventual death of Kim that are based on expectations of a mass-scale humanitarian crisis inside the country.
With Post wires
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