September 9th, 2008
03:16 PM ET

Missing Kim Jong Il raises health questions

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/09/09/art.vert.kimjongil.jpg width=292 height=320]
Christiane Amanpour
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.

Filed under: Christiane Amanpour • Global 360° • North Korea
soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. Robert

    Trapped in a Stalinist state & no one goes free.

    The N. Korean state leaders have fed on it’s own people for so long their will soon be nothing to eat and if true, Kim Jong Il’s passing, will assure those close to power that they maintain the present state, as they wish to feed on the people or themselves go hungry.

    The USSR, under J. Stalin, encouraged and supported the Korean War to keep America occupied while it developed it’s own nuclear weapon program, thus the beginning of the N. Korean state.

    Maintain power at all costs is the creed of the communist state by any and all means possible. If the death of thousands or millions of people is required to keep control & power, then is it justified to murder millions in the name of the state.

    The media, or the 4th estate, must be controlled to hide atrocities, corruption and murder. Without a free press, free from Government interference, Kim & his friends will remain in power and the feeding frenzy will continue.

    Would the People Republic of China accept the collapse of the N. Korean state? No. The PRC knowing the S. Korean people and the possibility of UN & American troops on it’s border would cause grave concern in the newly emerging PRC “capitalist” state.

    A time in history Communism had relevance. Now, the worker shares in the wealth of Capitalism and Communism struggles to fool the people. Feudalism and “class societies” have gone by the wayside and like the horse and buggy and the Stalinist state will soon follow.

    I hope that some day the N. Korean people will be free & the Korea peninsula will be unified.

    Remember, Communism is the vomit of mankind.

    September 10, 2008 at 10:33 am |
  2. Len from Toronto, Canada

    Okay, you had me there, right up to the line "a U.S. Intelligence official". That's when I knew that everything else I was about to read was total crap. The U.S. HAS NO INTELLIGENCE!

    September 10, 2008 at 10:24 am |
  3. Robert

    Who honestly cares where this guy is. If he is dead, it will benefit not only his country, but society as a whole. He is an evil leader who like to play god!!

    September 10, 2008 at 10:24 am |
  4. Rodney in SC

    If Kim Jong is near death or even dead the N. Korean government is in a state of panic. KJ controls everything that goes on in the country. The officials in the country won't know what to do if he is gone. What will be worse for them is if he is sick and he might recover. The officials won't do anything that KJ might consider wrong because they will be killed when he regains his senses. What a fun country.

    September 10, 2008 at 10:14 am |
  5. Devin

    Hey Flozie:

    I doubt you would recognize "Real" evil if it bit ya on the rear-end. Bush may have not got it all right, but he did keep us safe. Study your history and stop drinking the left-wing Kool-aid.

    September 10, 2008 at 10:10 am |
  6. Eliu

    Ronnie I couldnt have said it any better.

    September 10, 2008 at 10:00 am |
  7. Eliu

    Its very funny and short sided of anyone who can compare President Bush to Kim Jong II or Sadam Hussien. You should be glad that you can make those comments without the government coming to get you. Thats what makes this country great. The idiots can make such stupids comments with total confidents. And if the ones that did see the reports by Christiane you will see had sad it is to be in North Korea.

    September 10, 2008 at 9:52 am |
  8. rob cunningham

    i think he did die 5 years ago and they dont want the world to see that they lost ther great leader
    certain people will lose their high ranking possitions
    and with no successor ready the north would fall like the berlin wall
    so i say let the double with the funny hair cut rule the country sure beats a guy with a military hair cut

    September 10, 2008 at 9:48 am |
  9. John

    In regards to Bills comment:

    I'm not so sure that they would be forthcoming with news of Kim's illness/death. As I understand it, Cult of Personality doesn't even begin to describe how this guy is forced down his people's throats. He's almost portrayed like a God.

    Kind of hard to explain God's death...

    It would probably take awhile for them to concoct a story to feed the public about how Kim had ascended to the heavens to join his father. "But don't worry, we have another Dear Leader to replace him" Drumroll...

    September 10, 2008 at 9:31 am |
  10. Joreen Ortega

    i think that the north koreans will understand kim's situation since he is the only prominent figure in their state.

    September 10, 2008 at 7:53 am |
  11. Jim C

    A stroke perhaps? He was the only overwieght person in N Korea that the world had ever seen!

    September 10, 2008 at 6:54 am |
  12. wyz

    The U.S. needs to be prepared for anything that might happen.

    Kim's death has the potential to destabilize the entire region very quickly.

    When the moment comes, the U.S. should act decisively but not rashly, and definitely not unilaterally, considering whose interests are involved in this.

    September 10, 2008 at 1:48 am |
  13. Aaron

    Isn't he hole up in some cave in Afghanistan.........? never mind

    September 10, 2008 at 1:40 am |
  14. Andrew

    Amen to your comments Chung Soo Gee. I couldn't agree more.

    September 10, 2008 at 1:34 am |
  15. neta


    September 10, 2008 at 1:11 am |
  16. Steve from S.Korea

    I would have to agree with Jeff, but there is something wrong with JI Kim. A reliable source states that a group of foreign doctors were invited to N.Korea recently. Considering the quality of doctors in N.Korea, it could mean something.

    The only thing that I am curious about is who will replace JI Kim, and how the successor will try to run N.Korea.

    If JI Kim is dead, it will definitely be the biggest news in the year 2008.

    September 10, 2008 at 12:19 am |
  17. Kenji

    The world will be much better off without Kim Jong Il.
    We're tired of his maneuverings and brinkmanship style of negotiating
    with nations just to stay in power...
    Its time for ordinary North Koreans to rise up against this tyranical leader!!

    September 10, 2008 at 12:02 am |
  18. Aldo


    Your reporting from North Korea was fantastic, I loved it, I just wish that CNN was not as biased when it comes to Cuba, and you could give the world your point of view, specially now that we got a similar situation that no one expected, the brother took over but the older is not really dead, well we are not even sure! LOL From the bottom of my heart I just wish that Kim w/e his name is, leaves this world and let his people be. I know what is like to live in that kind of fear, but I got to admit that in Cuba is not as bad.

    September 10, 2008 at 12:00 am |
  19. Chad

    If you really want to know what living in North Korea is like, search for "Born and Raised in a Concentration Camp" The video is available on the web of a 26 year old man who at age 24 escaped a North Korean Concentation Camp. North Korea has over 250,000 people in these camps. Is this enough reason to go to war instead of what we are fighting for in Iraq?

    September 9, 2008 at 11:54 pm |
  20. William Drown

    I think it is very significant that the Dear Leader did not attend the 60th anniversary ceremonies today. It is only possible to keep his health a secret for a short period of time – even in this extremely reclusive regime. Just as the Brits did with Churchill when he had a serious set back, they will eventually have to produce his person for public inspection to quelch the rumors.

    Good job on the reporting about North Korea. All of the pieces have been amazingly interesting. The whole country reminds me of the Fritz Lang's famous early 19th century German movie – Metropolis.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:49 pm |
  21. Jeff

    Hang on, is this the same good ol intel that gaves us Sadam Hussein has WMD!!! He's in with al qaeda!!! Look where that got us.

    September 9, 2008 at 10:11 pm |
  22. jim in the PacNW

    If a stroke incapacitates him, will he send himself to one of his
    own gulags?

    September 9, 2008 at 9:46 pm |
  23. Bill

    I think some common sense is being overlooked here. Yes, perhaps Kim Jong II is ill or incapacitated. But dead?! Being a head of state, don't you think an announcement would be made about his death and a possible successor? I just don't think North Korea has much of a reason for keeping that a secret. Sure this is a critical moment regarding denuclearization, but Kim Jong II is not just the only political figure in the North Korean government.

    September 9, 2008 at 9:43 pm |
  24. paul

    Just another dictator puting a strangle hold on a starving nation...sad

    September 9, 2008 at 9:28 pm |
  25. Bob

    I think that after graduating from North Korea's World-Respected School of Smileology with top honors, JK is just a little worn out, and is taking a much-needed break from the public view. What I heard (from insiders who could not itentify themselves to me because they weren't allowed to say anything, accurately or not) is that some of the smiling exercises were so brutal that he received painful cramps around his lips and eyes. It is unsure, but he may be enduring some Botox treatment at a private facility at this time. Happy lucky smiles to you al!

    September 9, 2008 at 8:59 pm |
  26. Jonathan Davis

    In the last week or so I have seen reports that North Korea is threatening to rebuild the nuclear facilities. How does this corresponds to your reports of his "stroke" or disappearance? Maybe we are seeing a transition of power over there.

    September 9, 2008 at 8:36 pm |
  27. Chung Soo Gee

    Many have anticipated this moment, but the true question is – how many have prepared for crossing this steely anchored bridge of "the last Stalinist stronghold" beyond Kim Jong Il's earthy existence? Prepared in the sense that a nation held hostage by dictatorship could possibly be freed, but only free for a brief moment in thought by North Korean citizens of the death of a man who symbolized a reign of control so frigid and strong, no assemblance of the persecuted could rise and retaliate? If ever the time to rescue a nation was so self-evident, it would be at this vulnerable period when the glue is still wet in transition from the possible demise or death of this ogre to the minions who orchestrated his daily movements and who salivate at the chance to perpetuate a nation in the sad footsteps it has followed since 1953.

    September 9, 2008 at 8:36 pm |
  28. Ronnie

    Not a threat? Please be accurate. He's got nukes. He's got delivery vehicles that can strike S. Korea, Japan, Guam, Hawaii, and a good part of the U.S. He's already aided the Syrians in their nuclear reactor; is the world's leading exporter of ballistic missiles; has thousands of artillery pieces within range of Seoul, and could transfer one of his precious nukes to anyone he sees fit at any time, and the list goes on...and you say he's not a threat. Enough with the rhetoric. Stick with facts, please.

    September 9, 2008 at 8:27 pm |
  29. Anthony Ching

    Let's hope his disappearance is an indication of a political change in North Korea and possibility of reconciliation
    with the rest of the modern world.

    September 9, 2008 at 8:11 pm |
  30. John Booth

    I believe Kim Jung Il is incapacitated, because every chance he gets, he appears on the television screen. It is not like him to not be at a large gathering.

    September 9, 2008 at 5:53 pm |
  31. Dave, Santa Barbara CA

    Will we hear from a religious leader? "President Kim is on our prayers."

    September 9, 2008 at 5:51 pm |
  32. Charles Anderson

    If he is truely ill, get well soon Kim. The world needs more leaders like you, otherwise peace might break out, and we all know how bad for buisness that is.

    September 9, 2008 at 5:45 pm |
  33. Michael in Houston, Texas

    He may be dead. How long has he been dead and who is the new leader is the million dollor question. In most countries like North Korea, it is not one man who runs the country, it is usually a group and thier President is just a figure head. So I don't know how much things will change in the PRNK even if he is no longer alive.

    September 9, 2008 at 5:37 pm |
  34. John Swinburn

    I think it's vitally important for us to get a realistic, unbiased picture of the North Korean societal and political landscape. I have long since completely lost confidence in the U.S. government to give me anything remotely close to the truth on such matters, so anything Christiane Amanpour, CNN, and other reliable media can share will be eye-opening.

    I appreciate Christiane's unbiased reporting and hope she is able to get back to Pyongyang and report to us what she observes.

    September 9, 2008 at 5:25 pm |
  35. Lorenzo

    I don't believe he is incapicitated. He could be there behind close doors. Why would a person come out in public view when you can have people do that for you. There's no real danger or threat for him to come out.. Let the fools think what they want to think (I'm sure he's saying this)..

    September 9, 2008 at 5:24 pm |
  36. Michael B

    The world will be a safer place when Kim Jong Il is gone. He rules the country with an iron fist. The country's sole purpose is to protect the "Dear Leader". He will do anything to keep power. Hopefully his children (or whoever takes over after his death) will allow the people to enjoy the freedoms God intended for them.

    September 9, 2008 at 5:24 pm |
  37. James

    If Kim Jong il is dead he would be replaced by National Defense Commission (NDC) as these ruling elite do not know how to live other than the days of old under Kim Jong il and his father before him.

    September 9, 2008 at 5:12 pm |
  38. Brian Anderson

    I believe he has been dead scince 2003 intellegence reports lean that way. He has had body doubles groomed to front for him. North Korea is really no threat to the U.S. They have nothing we need and are basically powerless out side of their region. The military is weakening, the people are starving and the country as a whole is 10-15 years behind in technology. they will collapse soon!!!!

    September 9, 2008 at 4:52 pm |
  39. san diego moon


    Your reporting on North Korea has been fantastic. You are one of the most unbiased and thought provoking journalists I've seen. Keep up the good work.

    September 9, 2008 at 4:52 pm |
  40. Pete

    Looks like Trey & Matt finally cut the strings...

    September 9, 2008 at 4:43 pm |
  41. Lizzy


    How wonderful to hear from you on the 360 Blog. Frankly, I am one American who is sick and tired of the political naval-gazing which has become the staple of American Cable news. Will we get to hear from you tonight on AC 360?

    I watched both reports you filed from North Korea. It is a shame that you and your CNN crew were not granted visas this time.

    Thanks for reminding us that there is more happening in the world than just the Presidential politics here in the USA.

    September 9, 2008 at 3:34 pm |