Mil­i­tary, party in con­trol in N. Korea while Kim’s ill

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - BY SARA A. CARTER

Se­nior mem­bers of the mil­i­tary and the Korean Work­ers’ Party have been rul­ing North Korea while their leader, Kim Jong-il, is in­ca­pac­i­tated, and the nu­cle­ar­armed coun­try is not likely to be­come un­sta­ble in the near fu­ture, U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials and Korean spe­cial­ists say.

Three U.S. of­fi­cials and a for­mer U.S. of­fi­cial who still works with North Korea said that Mr. Kim, 66, had been bat­tling health prob­lems for months be­fore he suf­fered an ap­par­ent stroke last month, leav­ing day-to-day re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to sub­or­di­nates.

The leader’s sickness should not dis­rupt the in­ter­nal pol­i­tics in a na­tion ac­cus­tomed to a poor econ­omy and iso­la­tion.

“He doesn’t have a clear suc­ces­sor, and it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble that there is some in­fight­ing within the North Korean elite,” said a U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial, who could not dis­close his name be­cause of the na­ture of his work. The in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial added, how­ever, that se­nior North Korean party mem­bers fol­low the poli­cies that Mr. Kim would have pur­sued and that al­though in­sta­bil­ity is pos­si­ble, it is not likely “be­cause he’s been ill for quite a while and other high­rank­ing party mem­bers are in con­trol.”

“Even in the event of his death, there has been a sup­port struc­ture un­der­neath him that has been run­ning the North Korean gov­ern­ment,” said the U.S. of­fi­cial, who had the same as­sess­ment as two other in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials in­ter­viewed by The Wash­ing­ton Times.

The for­mer U.S. of­fi­cial said Mr. Kim looked in poor health when he met in Oc­to­ber with then-South Korean Pres­i­dent Roh Moo-hyun and did not ac­com­pany Mr. Roh to an an­nual ex­trav­a­ganza of ath­let­ics and pro­pa­ganda in Py­ongyang called the Ari­rang Games.

Be­cause his ill­ness was pub­licly dis­closed in news re­ports Sept. 9, some an­a­lysts have ex­pressed con­cern that do­mes­tic de­vel­op­ments in North Korea have caused it to stall over nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment. Talks have come to an im­passe be­cause of a dis­pute be­tween North Korea and the United States over how to ver­ify the coun­try’s nu­clear pro­grams. North Korea has com­plained that the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has not re­moved it from a State Depart­ment list of ter­ror­ism-spon­sor­ing states de­spite a U.S. pledge to do so.

A se­nior Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial told The Times that in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the rapid re­cov­ery of Mr. Kim is sus­pect.

“We’re go­ing to talk with North Korean neigh­bors in the re­gion to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion there; no one wants an un­sta­ble North Korea,” the of­fi­cial stated. “But it’s an opaque sit­u­a­tion, and we have peo­ple an­a­lyz­ing ev­ery as­pect of it.”

Jack Pritchard, a for­mer Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion ne­go­tia­tor with North Korea who now heads the Korea Eco­nomic In­sti­tute, said the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion “moved the goal posts” when it de­manded that North Korea ac­cept a plan to ver­ify its nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties be­fore re­mov­ing the coun­try from the black­list.

The North Kore­ans are an­gry, he said, and have stopped dis­man­tling their nu­clear pro­gram as they had promised to do un­der an agree­ment with the United States and the other four mem­bers of the so-called six-party talks — China, South Korea, Ja­pan and Rus­sia.

“The ac­tions that occurred af­ter his health event are to­tally con­sis­tent with what he would have done,” Mr. Pritchard said.

Mike Chi­noy, au­thor of “Melt­down: The In­side Story of the North Korean Nu­clear Cri­sis,” said that if Mr. Kim “were to die soon, you’d have some col­lec­tive mil­i­tary-dom­i­nated lead­er­ship evok­ing Kim Jong-il and his fa­ther” to carry on with their poli­cies.

“I think that the North Korean sys­tem, for all its aw­ful­ness, is more re­silient than oth­ers give it credit for,” said Mr. Chi­noy, who is also a se­nior fel­low with the Pa­cific Coun­cil on In­ter­na­tional Pol­icy, a non­par­ti­san think tank in Los An­ge­les. “As far as Kim’s three sons, there is no ev­i­dence that any ground­work has been laid pub­licly that the man­tle will be passed to them. You have the mil­i­tary, the Korean Work­ers’ Party and then the fam­ily. There very well will be over­lap.”

Th­ese “are the three groups to watch as news un­folds,” he said.

Mr. Kim’s el­dest son, Kim Jong­nam, 37, fell out of fa­vor with his fa­ther when he used a fake Do­mini­can pass­port to en­ter Ja­pan. Mr. Kim’s sec­ond son, Kim Jong-chul, 27, is re­ported to have stud­ied in Switzer­land and to have been ap­pointed to a high po­si­tion in the Korean Work­ers’ Party last year.

But Kenji Fu­ji­moto, who says he was the pri­vate sushi chef to Mr. Kim for 13 years, claims the “Dear Leader” thinks the sec­ond son is too soft and in­stead fa­vors his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, 24, who ap­par­ently looks and acts just like his fa­ther.

“If some­thing hap­pened to Kim, there are a lot of real is­sues here — what to do on the nu­clear front, on the eco­nomic front,” Mr. Chi­noy said. “The hon­est an­swer is, no­body re­ally knows how any of th­ese con­flict­ing per­son­al­i­ties will in­ter­act or play against each other.”

Gor­don Flake, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mans­field Foun­da­tion in Wash­ing­ton, said he had been told that Mr. Kim suf­fered a stroke last month and was re­cov­er­ing but was not to the point where he could at­tend the Sept. 9 cer­e­mony on the 60th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of North Korea.

Mr. Flake said he was “skep­ti­cal of the line that the mil­i­tary is in charge and that’s why we’re hav­ing th­ese prob­lems” over the North Korean nu­clear pro­gram. “That’s too con­ve­nient and over­an­a­lyz­ing,” he said.

He ac­knowl­edged, how­ever, that few out­siders have a firm grip over de­vel­op­ments in North Korea.

“If there’s an opaque lead­er­ship in the world, it’s Nor th Korea’s,” he said.

A for­mer U.S. of­fi­cial deal­ing with Korea who asked not to be named be­cause he held a sen­si­tive po­si­tion said he thinks that Mr. Kim is still in charge. “I don’t think any­one has made any de­ci­sions that go against his in­struc­tions,” the for­mer U.S. of­fi­cial said.

The for­mer of­fi­cial said he doubted that North Korea would give up its nu­clear weapons be­cause they “don’t have any rea­son to trust any­one in the United States or the Rus­sians or the Chi­nese.”

“They worked very hard to get th­ese weapons. They are not go­ing to be­come the first nu­cle­ar­weapons state to give them up.”

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports

There is no clear suc­ces­sor to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who re­port­edly suf­fered a stroke last month, al­though some have looked to his three sons, par­tic­u­larly the youngest.

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