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Kim Jong Il 'in full control' of North Korea, U.S. official says

There was no sign of serious health problems during the dictator's recent meeting with former President Clinton. Kim's health was at the root of a reported power struggle in North Korea.

August 10, 2009|Paul Richter

WASHINGTON — North Korean leader Kim Jong Il appeared to be "in full control of his government" when an American mission met with him last week to free two imprisoned U.S. journalists, White House national security advisor James L. Jones said Sunday.

Jones, appearing on news programs, said that despite months of credible reports that Kim was struggling with grave health problems, "he seemed in control of his faculties" and "sounded very reasoned" in wide-ranging discussions with former President Clinton.

Kim's health and control over his government have been key issues in the region for months amid reports from intelligence agencies that the leader's health setbacks have set off a struggle for power in the impoverished Stalinist state.

The White House has so far released little information on the more than three hours of conversation between Clinton and the secretive dictator. Jones provided few additional details, saying the debriefing was not yet complete.

He stopped short of predicting that the visit would lead to a new engagement with North Korea over its disputed nuclear program, saying on NBC's "Meet the Press" only that "time will tell."

Jones, who oversaw the White House effort to organize the North Korea mission, said on "Fox News Sunday" that the conversations between Clinton and the North Koreans were "respectful and cordial in tone." Asked if he could guarantee that the U.S. team had given Kim nothing more than a highly publicized photo opportunity, Jones said, "I can do that absolutely, with a straight face."

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paul.richter@latimes.com

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