President Trump was asked about the widespread speculation surrounding the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a White House news conference on the coronavirus on Monday. Trump suggested he knew “exactly” how Kim is doing, but declined to reveal that information.
“Yes I do have a very good idea, but I can’t talk about it now,” said Trump when he was asked to provide an update on Kim’s condition. “I just wish him well.”
There have been multiple media reports in recent weeks that Kim, who is 36 and has ruled North Korea as “Supreme Leader” since 2011, is either dead or incapacitated after heart surgery. The rumors and speculation have been fueled by the fact that Kim hasn’t appeared in North Korean state media for two weeks and missed the April 15 birthday celebrations for his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, founder of the repressive regime.
At his news conference, Trump suggested Kim’s condition would become public soon.
The president also said he didn’t think Kim made any statements over the weekend. However, the North Korean government did release a statement that purportedly came from Kim, but Trump was seemingly unaware of that communiqué and said Kim couldn’t possibly have made any statement.
Those comments came after a reporter tried to ask Trump about remarks Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., made in a Fox News interview over the weekend. Trump cut off the reporter, apparently misunderstanding the question, and indicated it would not have been possible for Kim to have issued a statement.
“He didn’t say anything last Saturday, nobody knows where he is, so he obviously couldn’t have said it,” Trump said of Kim, adding, “This is breaking news that Kim Jong Un made a statement on Saturday? I don’t think so.”
However, North Korea did release a purported statement from Kim on Monday. The country’s state media, a propaganda organ of Kim’s regime, published a letter from Kim congratulating South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on the country’s Freedom Day celebrations. According to the North Korean news agency, the letter was dated April 27, 2020.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about why Trump seemed unfamiliar with this statement or what made him adamant Kim couldn’t have released remarks.
Trump met with Kim in February 2019, making him the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader since 1948, when the Korean Peninsula was divided and Kim’s grandfather established his Stalinist regime. The U.S. has technically been at war with North Korea for most of the ensuing 70 years. The Korean War, which began in 1950 when North Korea invaded the U.S. ally South Korea, ended in 1953 with an armistice rather than a formal peace treaty.
As he discussed Kim’s health, Trump touted his rapport with the North Korean leader.
“I’ve had a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un,” said Trump. “If I weren’t president … you would have been in war with North Korea.”