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Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “probably doing well,” U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said on Tuesday.
The comments come after Kim’s recent unexplained, three-week disappearance from the public eye sparked worldwide speculation and rumors that he may be severely ill or even dead.
The DPRK leader ultimately reappeared at a fertilizer factory on May 1, according to North Korean state media, with some signs that he may have undergone a medical procedure — but he has not made another public appearance since then.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, O’Brien said he assumed — but would not confirm — that Kim Jong Un is now, in fact, alive and well.
“He seems to be out, cutting ribbons on a fertilizer factory so you know our thinking is that he’s, he’s probably doing well,” O’Brien said.
“This is a — we call it the Hermit Kingdom,” he said. “It’s very difficult to get information out of North Korea, they’re not very forthcoming with information but they did release photos of him being alive and well and we assume that he is.”
As for whether those photos are real, the National Security Adviser said he “can’t say one way or the other,” adding that the photos are “open source” — and that the Trump administration is “seeing those same photos.”
O’Brien’s remarks also echoed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments earlier this month after Kim reappeared, when he commented that “it looks like Chairman Kim is alive and well.”
Kim Jong Un has not been seen again in public since reemerging at the Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory in early May.
On Friday, North Korean state media said that Kim had sent a “verbal greeting” to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, congratulating him for “registering success” in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
“Kim Jong Un wished Xi Jinping good health, expressing conviction that the Chinese party and people would cement the successes made so far and steadily expand them and thus win a final victory under the wise guidance of Xi Jinping,” the official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
North Korea continues to deny having any COVID-19 infections within its borders — a claim dismissed by many experts and officials as impossible.
Among the many rumors swirling during Kim’s prolonged absence last month, at least one suggested that he was staying away from Pyongyang to avoid a possible coronavirus outbreak there.
As of Wednesday, he has now been out of the public eye for another 11 days.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is "probably doing well," U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien said on Tuesday.
The comments come after Kim's recent unexplained, three-week disappearance from the public eye sparked worldwide speculation and rumors that he may be severely ill or even dead.