What’s the story with Kim Jong Un?

The North Korean leader missed a high-profile public appearance earlier this month -- and then murky, unverified reports emerged about his health.

But on Sunday a key aide to the president of neighboring South Korea insisted Kim was "alive and well."

"Our government position is firm," Chung-in Moon, foreign policy adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, told Fox News. "Kim Jong Un is alive and well. He has been staying in the Wonsan area since April 13. No suspcious movements have so far been detected."

"Kim Jong Un is alive and well. He has been staying in the Wonsan area since April 13. No suspcious movements have so far been detected."

— Chung-in Moon, foreign policy adviser to South Korea's president

The situation seemed less certain last week. On Tuesday, North Korea’s leader was reportedly recovering from a cardiovascular procedure, according to South Korean media.

But specific details about his condition were unclear and unverified -- and North Korea is well-known for suppressing and distorting news inside its borders.

On April 15, Kim was conspicuously absent from a celebration of the country’s most important holiday the “Day of the Sun," which marks the birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the founder and first dictator of Communist North Korea.

The Daily NK, an online news periodical based in Seoul and run mostly by North Korean defectors, reported that Kim was recovering from surgery, which happened on April 12, at a coastal resort.

He’d been in poor health due to heavy smoking, overworking and obesity, according to the outlet.

Views from South Korea

Other sources in South Korea who spoke to Fox News on Sunday morning, however, argued that Kim probably is not dead but likely experiencing a difficult recovery from surgery.

One source said he has seen nothing of value in the latest flurry of allegations and claims.

“The rumors are mixing and merging, getting less reliable,” the source said, adding the prospect of Kim dying soon was a “remote possibility.” The more likely scenario, the source added, was that Kim was still recovering.

“I don’t see how we can go from rumors and speculation to fact and interpretation until the North Koreans themselves decide to share something about his condition,” the source said.

He noted that Kim’s record for absence from public view is about 40 days. And in fact, speculation about Kim’s health has happened before when a North Korean leader has sought medical treatment, he added.

The time frame between past North Korean leader’s deaths and the announcement of the passing is usually two to three days.

“That window is closing soon,” the source acknowledged.

A second source downplays the “Kim is dead” narrative coming from the Hong Kong Satellite Channel. He thinks that was drawn from a chatroom of Chinese doctors and “dressed up a bit.”

“It was just too matter of fact,” the source said. Furthermore, if any of these Chinese medical experts had any stature, the source noted, they would not blow Beijing’s cover.

The second source sees the “vegetative state” line as just a re-working of a “brain-dead” tweet from earlier in the week. He also sees a 38 North report of Kim’s train being spotted at the coastal resort of Wonsan as significant.

There have been previous sightings of Kim at the coastal resort. This source believes Kim could be recuperating there from his surgery. And the source also sees as noteworthy that messages have allegedly been sent by Kim to various people, according to state media.

The source said Kim’s regime likely wouldn’t put on a charade if they were getting ready to announce Kim’s death.

A third source noted that the presence of coronavirus and a lockdown policy in the region was cutting down access to truth and letting a lot of wild rumors fly.

This third source believes Kim is definitely not dead and notes there have been no unusual movements of North Korea’s military or security, and no visible ceremony preparations or signs of jockeying for power. This fits with what the South Korean government has been saying all week. As well as some U.S. sources.

The source says he has been hearing the rumors of Kim being in a vegetative state or even dead for several days now, along with a half-dozen other permutations. He thinks there was an operation, Kim is recovering and might be sidelined for the “forseeable future.”

Finally, another line of thinking is that Kim may have contracted COVID-19 or has been sheltering in place to avoid catching the virus.

Kim has underlying health conditions that could make him vulnerable.


Earlier signs

Fox News' Tucker Carlson -- who witnessed President Trump become the first sitting U.S. president to enter North Korea and shake hands with Kim in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) last summer -- described Kim as “wheezing like an emphysema patient, not a healthy guy.”

In this Sunday, June 30, 2019, photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands over the military demarcation line at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone. (Associated Press)

Despite a growing number of claims about the surgery's aftermath from overseas, U.S. authorities and media outlets have not yet been able to independently verify Kim’s condition.

President Trump weighed in on the issue after CNN reported Tuesday that U.S. officials were monitoring intelligence that Kim was “in grave danger” following the procedure.

"Well, these are reports that came out, and we don't know. We don't know," Trump told Fox News’ Bret Baier. "I've had a very good relationship with him. I wouldn't -- you know, 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.”

On Thursday, the president said he thought the report on Kim’s poor health was “incorrect.”


“I’m hearing they used old documents,” Trump said when asked about Kim during the White House’s daily coronavirus press briefing. “I hear the report was an incorrect report. I hope it was an incorrect report.”

But Reuters reported Friday that China had dispatched a team that included medical experts to North Korea in the wake of the conflicting reports over Kim's health.


Then on Saturday, a Japanese magazine published an unverified report that claimed complications from the surgery left Kim in a “vegetative state." On the same day, a Hong Kong network made another unverified claim that the dictator had died, the New York Post reported.

U.S. officials told Fox News Saturday that they had not yet seen definitive intelligence suggesting the dictator was dead.

Sources said the White House is monitoring the situation carefully.

Fox News’ John Roberts, Travis Fedschun, Peter Aitken, Frank Miles and Nick Givas contributed to this report.