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    N.Korea's Kim believed still in charge: South Korean minister

    AFP
    18.10.2008 - 10:14 | Son Güncelleme:

    North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is believed to remain in control of the government despite reports of ill health but the situation in the isolated country is unpredictable, South Korea’s defense minister said Friday.

    Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee, joined by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a news conference, said the United States and South Korea were monitoring the situation closely.

     

    "Kim Jong-Il has not been seen in public for a while now, but both Korean and United States intelligence services estimate that he still has control over his administration," Lee said.

     

    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 Korea and the United States are monitoring the situation closely," he said.

     

    "Crisis or instability situations in North Korea could stem from many different causes so it would be very difficult to predict them at this point," he said.

     

    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, North Korea remains the last hair-trigger flashpoint of the Cold War.

     

    The defense ministers held annual defense consultations earlier Friday on the state of U.S. and South Korean defenses against North Korea.

     

    In a joint statement, the ministers welcomed North Koreas resumption of measures to disable its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon following Pyongyang’s removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

     

    But Gates said: "The North Korean nuclear and conventional threat continues to be the focal point of our deterrent and defense posture."

     

    He reaffirmed U.S. commitment to South Koreas defense, and the extension of the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

     

    Gates said Washington stood by an agreement earlier this year to halt a drawdown of American troops from the peninsula and maintain U.S. force levels there at 28,500.

     

    The two countries also reviewed preparations for the transfer of wartime command from the United States to South Korea by 2012.

     

    Lee said the U.S. side had assured the United States would provide the military capabilities needed to maintain the same level of deterrence "before, during and after" the transfer of wartime control.

     

    Gates said President George W. Bush took action earlier this week to give South Korea the same status as NATO and Japan in buying U.S. weapon systems.

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