CNN Chief International Correspondent
North Korea’s Kim Jong Il is the world’s most mysterious leader presiding over the world’s most closed society. So trying to pin down any information about him is incredibly difficult. A US intelligence official today says that for the past few weeks Kim has been suffering from serious health problems which could include a possible stroke.
This could provoke an international crisis, since so little is known about the inner workings of North Korea, a country which has already tested a nuclear weapon…but which has now started down the long path towards disarmament.
I have made two trips to North Korea this year, first in February to cover the historic visit to Pyongyang by the New York Philharmonic orchestra, and then in June to witness North Korea blow up the cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear plant. But I had hoped also to be there today, to cover the mass-games ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state. However, we never received visas, and Kim Jong Il was a “no-show” on the reviewing stand.
The White House, and the State Department also seem to be in the dark, as evidenced today by Spokesman Sean McCormack
“We can't personally attest to that he was not present on the podium for the military parade. I can't offer to you any significance of his presence or his non-presence on the podium. And I can't confirm these reports about his health for you. Obviously this is a very opaque regime. I'm not in a position to offer any comment to you.”
So my trips there are intended to get even a small glimpse of a small slice of life in North Korea and to try to document the progress of Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament, in a deal worked with the US and its regional allies, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia. The cultural visit by the NY Phil last winter was the more remarkable because it was the first people-to-people diplomacy between the two countries since the Korean War. Indeed the US and North Korea are still technically in a state of war, since they never signed a formal peace treaty. Still, slow but sure progress has been made on the nuclear issue.
Last summer, (2007) Pyongyang announced it was shutting down its nuclear plant and started to disable it. In February this year I got a rare look inside to witness and document this. US technical experts are at the plant to help them and IAEA cameras watch every move, so I was confident that what I was seeing was in fact real. North Korea’s senior nuclear negotiator Kim Gae Kwan, in an exclusive conversation, told me despite the cynics, his country is serious about this process.
And a few months later, this past June, North Korea came up with its long delayed declaration of its past nuclear activities. Following a carefully choreographed script, US President George Bush announced he would remove Pyongyang from the US list of states that sponsor terrorism, and also lift some US sanctions. And then Pyongyang invited CNN and a handful of news organizations to witness the destruction of part of its nuclear facility. If the paramount leader is indeed incapacitated, it is unclear which direction this process will head.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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