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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently had surgery, could be incapacitated, US officials say

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervises a “strike drill” for multiple launchers and tactical guided weapon into the East Sea on May 4, 2019

U.S. intelligence indicates that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un recently had cardiovascular surgery, NBC News reported, citing American officials.

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Some intelligence officials said the intelligence suggest that Kim could be incapacitated, NBC added.

The development came on the heels of the South Korean currency, the won, taking a hit following an unconfirmed report that Kim was seriously ill. Kim has been out of public view for several days, according to officials cited by NBC.

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The news also seemed to contradict what South Korea’s presidential office had told NBC News.

“We confirm that Chairman Kim Jong Un is currently touring provincial areas with his close aides and we do not detect evidences to support speculation about his ill health,” South Korea’s presidential office told NBC News in a statement.

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“Even North Korea’s Worker’s Party, military or cabinet aren’t showing any special movements such as emergency decree. We believe that Chairman Kim is active as normal as he has been,” the office said.

Robert O’Brien, President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, said in a Fox News interview on Tuesday that the United States is monitoring Kim’s status.

“We’re monitoring these reports very closely,” he said. “As you know, North Korea is a very closed society.”

The White House and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Speculation about Kim’s health first arose following his absence from the anniversary of the birthday of its founding father and Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, on April 15.

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.

North Korea under third-generation Kim

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un salutes during a visit to the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces on the occasion of the new year, in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 10, 2016.

While little is known about the North Korean leader or his children, Kim Jong Un is believed to be about 36 years old. He is known to be overweight and has been photographed smoking cigarettes.

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. 

North Korea, the only nation to have tested nuclear weapons this century, spent most of President Donald Trump’s first year in office perfecting its nuclear arsenal. The newest member of the world’s exclusive nuclear weapons club has stopped testing of its nukes for now as the U.S. and international community offer the possibility of relief from crippling economic sanctions.

In 2018, Trump met Kim Jong Un for the first time in Singapore to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The two leaders held a second round of talks in Vietnam in February 2019, but negotiations collapsed after Trump reportedly¬†handed Kim a note demanding he turn over the North’s nuclear weapons and bomb fuel.

President Donald Trump makes a statement before saying goodbye to North Korea leader Kim Jong Un after their meeting in the Capella Hotel after their working lunch, on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018.

Since 2011, Kim has launched more than 100 missiles and conducted four nuclear weapons tests, which is more than what his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, launched over a period of 27 years.

While North Korea has paused nuclear tests that prompted Trump’s threat to bring “fire and fury” upon that country, it had already made significant progress before the historic dialogue with the U.S. started.

In 2018, he became the first North Korean leader to cross the 38th parallel to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-In. Both Koreas are technically still at war, as the Korean War of 1950-1953 ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The two leaders first met last year in a historic summit in Singapore. That was followed by a second round of talks in Vietnam in February, but that summit was abruptly ended after Trump reportedly handed Kim a note demanding he turn over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and bomb fuel.

In December, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Wednesday he will continue developing his country’s nuclear deterrent and introduce a new strategic weapon in the near future, according to the North’s state-run media KCNA.

Kim’s remarks came after the United States missed a year-end deadline for a restart of denuclearization talks.

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