WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday that reports suggesting North Korea’s leader was incapacitated following a cardiovascular surgery were incorrect.
“I think the report was incorrect, let me just put it that way,” Trump said when asked at a White House press briefing if he knew of Kim Jong Un’s condition. “I hear the report was an incorrect report. I hope it was an incorrect report,” he added, without providing further details.
Earlier in the week, Trump said that he had a “very good relationship” with the young leader and wished Kim “good luck.”
“I’ve had a very good relationship with him. I wouldn’t — I can only say this, I wish him well, because if he is in the kind of condition that the reports say, that’s a very serious condition, as you know,” Trump said on Tuesday during a White House press briefing. “But I wish him well.”
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
Speculation about Kim’s health first arose after his absence from the April 15 anniversary birthday celebration of North Korea’s founding father Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong Un.
Daily NK, a South Korean newspaper that focuses its coverage on North Korea, said late Monday that Kim on April 12 received a cardiovascular procedure at Hyangsan Hospital. The outlet also reported that Kim was recovering in a villa near the hospital.
NBC News, citing American officials, reported early Tuesday that Kim recently had cardiovascular surgery. Some of those officials said intelligence suggests Kim could be incapacitated.
NBC’s report seemed to contradict South Korea’s presidential office, which told the outlet that Kim “is currently touring provincial areas with his close aides and we do not detect evidences to support speculation about his ill health.”
Kim Jong Un was put forward as the “Great Successor” in 2009 and was made a four-star general the following year. His father, Kim Jong Il, died in 2011 and was believed to be about 70 years old at the time of his death. As planned, Kim took over and was probably around 28 years old.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un watches a military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People’s Army (KPA).
KCNA | Reuters
Under Kim, the reclusive state has conducted its most powerful nuclear test, launched its first-ever intercontinental ballistic missile and threatened to send missiles into the waters near Guam, a U.S. territory.
North Korea is the only nation known to have tested nuclear weapons this century. Since 2011, Kim has launched more than 100 missiles and conducted four nuclear weapons tests, which is more than his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, launched over a 27-year period.