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Experts: U.S.-North Korea Relations Taking Favorable Turn

Kim So Yeol  |  2008-10-06 12:09
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Since the Chosun (North Korea) Central News Agency (KCNA) report of the 4th stating that Kim Jong Il made his first public appearance in 51 days to watch a soccer match, experts on North Korea have proposed that Kim has been in seclusion, in contrast to rumors of his illness.

That is, his temporary absence from the public eye could be one of his time-worn patterns of being in seclusion and then suddenly reappearing.

His appearance was also interpreted as a sign of improvement in U.S.-North Korea relations, which have been tense lately as a result of the nuclear verification disagreement. Kim Jong Il must have concluded, after U.S. Assistant-Secretary Christopher Hill's visit to the North on the 1st, that the state of negotiations between the two countries had improved and he thus intended to show that he was in good health.

North Korea expert and representative of the North Korean Democratization Forum Lee Dong Bok said in a phone interview with the Daily NK on the 5th, "I have held suspicions about the veracity of the rumors of Kim's illness reported by the media. The only thing that has been confirmed is that Kim did not show up at the September 9th commemoration event."

Lee, regarding the Chosun Central News report of Kim's appearance, noted that "Kim Jong Il lived secluded from U.S.-North Korea relations, which had hit a roadblock after the North Korean Foreign Affairs Ministry's statement on August 26th. The rumors of his illness could be seen as a pretense. Kim could have evaluated that the situation surrounding the nuclear issue had progressed and so he finally decided to make an appearance."

Researcher Kim Hwan Suk at the Institute for National Security Strategy said, "The report of Kim Jong Il's recent appearance could be a tactic to exaggerate his condition after the rumors of his failing health, but it could also be considered as a sign of improvement in U.S.-North Korea relations."

Kim analyzed, "Just as in North Korea's first nuclear crisis in 1993 or at the beginning of the Iraq War, Kim tended to withdraw from activity in a tense situation in order to avoid risk."

He said, "After receiving a kind of a 'present' in the negotiations with Assistant-Secretary Hill, Kim Jong Il must have decided that the tension had lifted. In the U.S.-North Korea discussion over the nuclear verification protocol, it is highly possible that the U.S. agreed to remove North Korea's designation as a terrorism-sponsoring country after the North agreed to allow inspections of the Yongbyon facility separately from other facilities."

Furthermore, in his analysis, "The North also demanded nuclear inspections of both North and South Korea, to which the U.S. did not give a response, but it is a demand which must have been difficult for the Bush administration to refuse, from a diplomatic perspective."

Kim said, "North Korea seems to have received a huge present in terms of the removal of the terrorism-sponsoring designation and an agreement on inspections in exchange for the already defunct Yongbyon facility."

Lee Gi Dong, the researcher in charge at the Institute for National Security Strategy, said, "After seeing disadvantageous results following Kim's being in seclusion, not least international society debating the successor system, his recent appearance was probably a strategy to prove his health."

"Soccer matches do not draw such a huge audience, so Kim's health status could remain relatively well hidden," he also remarked regarding the Kims latest appearance.

Lee added, "When looking in retrospect at the North Korean response to the outside world's debate over Kim Jong Il's health, a response which was not vehement, it seems highly likely that there is indeed truth behind the rumors."
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