Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee, joined by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a news conference, said the
"Kim Jong-Il has not been seen in public for a while now, but both Korean and
Kim, who was last seen in public in mid-August, is believed to have suffered a stroke or some other serious illness, and was reported to have undergone brain surgery.
Lee said the state of Kim’s health had "significant implications for the security of the Korean peninsula. And intelligence communities from both
"Crisis or instability situations in
Gates noted there have been other times of heightened concern about the stability of the north, such as during past famines.
"I just echo Minister Lee’s observation that our militaries stay in very close touch on this, work together and consider various alternatives," he said.
Kim’s failure to appear at a military parade on the country’s 60th anniversary September 9 unleashed a wave of reports and speculation about his health that have raised questions about who is in control in the North.
North Korean state television aired photographs last weekend of Kim visiting a women’s artillery base, but South Korean and U.S. analyst said they appeared to have been taken before his health problems.
Lee sought to soften his comments by joking that Kim’s disappearance from view should not be given too much attention.
"I believe that he’s probably enjoying all this newfound attention. And if we show him too much attention, then we might spoil him," Lee said.
But with nuclear weapons and the world’s fourth largest army,
The defense ministers held annual defense consultations earlier Friday on the state of
In a joint statement, the ministers welcomed
But Gates said: "The North Korean nuclear and conventional threat continues to be the focal point of our deterrent and defense posture."
The two countries also reviewed preparations for the transfer of wartime command from the
Lee said the
Gates said President George W. Bush took action earlier this week to give