Mr. Kim is believed last fall to have suffered a debilitating ailment, possibly a stroke, although North Korea has denied such reports. Although Mr. Kim is thought to have recovered, The New York Times notes that his health remains a touchy subject even outside of North Korea: China recently jailed an expert on North Korea for addressing Kim's condition in public.
But the Los Angeles Times writes that "Clinton's comments suggested that there is now a widespread conviction that Kim is on the way out, and that the South Koreans, Chinese, Americans and others are formulating plans on how to deal with the successor regime." The Times adds that Clinton revisited her comments Friday in a meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, who echoed her concerns.
Clinton clarified her remarks this morning at an appearance with South Korea's foreign minister, saying U.S. officials aren't delaying diplomacy with North Korea until a new government emerges, but are "dealing with the government that exists right now." She disputed suggestions by some foreign policy analysts that she made a rookie mistake by speaking out on the sensitive subject.
"It's not like it's some classified matter that's not being discussed in many circles," she said.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan acknowledged that the succession issue is a top priority with Seoul as well.