‘I can’t tell you’: Trump adds to Kim Jong-un confusion amid speculation over North Korea leader’s health
US president claims he has ‘very good idea’ about North Korean leader’s condition – before admitting nobody knows his whereabouts
Mr Kim’s whereabouts and health status have been a subject of intense speculation after Seoul-based website Daily NK reported last week he was recovering after undergoing a cardiovascular procedure on 12 April.
“I can’t tell you exactly,” the US president said when asked about Kim’s condition at a White House news conference on Monday. “Yes, I do have a very good idea, but I can’t talk about it now. I just wish him well.”
Suggesting the mystery would soon be cleared up, Mr Trump added: “I hope he’s fine. I do know how he’s doing relatively speaking. We will see – you’ll probably be hearing in the not too distant future.”
Yet the president appeared to contradict himself only moments later when he said “nobody knows where he is”.
It comes as the North Korea authorities publishing a letter purportedly from Mr Kim to South African president Cyril Ramaphosa – dated 27 April – as “proof” that he is alive and well.
State media have previously reported that he sent greetings to Syrian president Bashar Assad and Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel.
Not seen in public since 11 April, the leader’s absence from public ceremonies on the birth anniversary of his grandfather Kim Il Sung on 15 April was unprecedented – leading to days of speculation over his health.
South Korean officials have cautioned against reports that Kim may be ill and emphasised they have detected no unusual movements in North Korea.
“It is true that he had never missed the anniversary for Kim Il Sung’s birthday since he took power, but many anniversary events including celebrations and a banquet had been cancelled because of coronavirus concerns,” Kim Yeon-chul said at a parliamentary hearing.
He said there were at least two instances since mid-January where Kim Jong Un was out of sight for nearly 20 days. “I don’t think that’s particularly unusual given the current [coronavirus] situation.”
A special train possibly belonging to Mr Kim was spotted last week at the North Korean resort town of Wonsan, according to satellite images reviewed by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project.
Despite Mr Trump’s claim to have a “very good idea” about his condition, experts said nobody outside North Korea knew exactly what was happening.
Cheon Seong Whun, a presidential secretary during the South Korea’s previous conservative government, said Seoul had struggled for several decades to get a strong grip on the location and health of North Korea’s top leadership.
“Anybody who says they know something for certain is just writing a novel,” Mr Cheon said.
Additional reporting by agencies