The Defense Department’s second-highest-ranking official said Wednesday that intelligence assessments available to him on the state of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s health are not conclusive and that the U.S. military is operating on the assumption that Kim is still in “full control” of his nation’s military and nuclear arsenal.
“In the intel I don’t have anything to confirm or deny anything along those lines, so I assume Kim Jong-Un is in full control,” Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force General John Hyten told reporters during a press briefing at the Pentagon.
“I assume Kim Jong-Un is in full control of the [North] Korean nuclear forces and the [North] Korean military forces, I have no reason not to assume that,” Hyten said.
CNN cited unnamed officials on Monday as saying the U.S. was tracking intelligence that Kim was in “grave” danger following surgery.
U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said on Fox News Tuesday that the Trump administration was “monitoring these reports very closely.” South Korea’s presidency has said it had nothing to confirm reports of Kim’s ill health.
Kim leader last appeared in state media on April 11, but was conspicuously absent from public celebrations of the birthday of his grandfather, the founder of North Korea’s regime, four days later.
A succession crisis in North Korea would be of serious concern to the United States military and intelligence community, which considers the nuclear-armed state to be the greatest threat to stability in East Asia.
There are some 25,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against the north’s long-stated ambition of “liberating” the peninsula’s south.