President Donald Trump, asked by White House reporters what he knew about the situation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, replied: “I can’t tell you exactly.”
“Yes I do have a very good idea. But I can’t talk about it,” he added. “I just wish him well. I’ve had a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un.”
The exchange came in Trump’s coronavirus briefing, which he resumed on Monday evening after canceling the daily rite briefly.
Kim’s failure to appear publicly since April 11 has been met with theories ranging from simple distancing for coronavirus avoidance to illness to an urgent heart operation that did or did not go bad to the latest: that the 36-year-old Kim was injured while overseeing missile tests.
Asked if Kim had responded to a letter Trump had sent in March, the president did not answer directly but used the moment to boast of his face-to-face diplomacy with Kim.
“If I weren’t president, you would have been in war with Korea,” he claimed, and then repeated it. “You would have been in war with North Korea if i wasn’t president. That I can tell you. He [Kim] expected that. That i can tell you.”
Returning to the subject of Kim’s health, Trump said, “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.”
“Nobody knows where he is,” Trump added.
South Korean officials have insisted that the more dire theories are off base. On Sunday, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul claimed that South Korea had “enough intelligence to confidently say that there are no unusual developments” in the North.
The theory that Kim had been hurt while watching missile tests on April 14 came from a former high-ranking Kim regime official who had defected to the United States.
“Kim was absent from the reports of the tests, while no footage of the missile launch and the training of combat aircraft was released, which points to a possibility of an unexpected accident that might have been caused by debris or fire,” Lee Jeong Ho wrote in the Seoul vernacular newspaper Dong A Ilbo.
In North Korea Lee had been an official of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Room 39, which specializes in acquiring hard currency abroad for a personal slush fund used by Kim and his family. Lee’s remarks were summarized and partially translated by the publication’s English edition Monday:
“In an article he wrote for this newspaper on Saturday, Lee Jeong Ho, who defected from North Korea to the United States, said that missile tests such as the ones carried out on April 14 could not go ahead without the order of commander-in-chief, which suggests that Kim was well until 7 am when the missiles were fired.”
Lee’s view “is that Kim might have fallen ill shortly after the missile launch given that [party daily newspaper] Rodong Sinmun or the Korean Central Broadcasting Committee cannot publish footage of missile tests without the permission of Kim.”