North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un Appears In Public, Ending Weeks Of Speculation About His Health

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has reportedly made his first public appearance in two weeks on Friday by attending the completion ceremony of a fertilizer plant in the central southeastern town of Suncheon, according to the South Korean news agency Yonhap and the North Korean state-run news agency KCNA.

Pictures of the event show the 36-year-old cutting a ribbon for the plant. KCNA reported that attendees "broke into thunderous cheers of hurrahs" when he made his appearance. Kim expressed praised the factory's contribution to the country's food and chemical industries, the North Korean news agency added.

"[Kim] warmly acknowledged the builders and masses raising thunderous cheers" the agency continued, reporting that he then toured the factory alongside senior officials from the ruling Workers' Party and his only sister, Kim Yo Jong. The full details provided in KCNA's report haven't yet been verified by Yonhap or any other outside media outlets.

The fertilizer plant may be connected to the nation's covert nuclear ambitions. Margaret Croy, a researcher of East Asian nuclear proliferation told Newsweek that a recent study suggested that the country's fertilizer factories could help it produce nuclear material by extracting uranium from phosphoric acids.

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Kim has accelerated his country's nuclear efforts while also emphasizing other economic and infrastructural developments since becoming national leader in 2011.

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"I'd rather not comment on it yet," U.S President Donald Trump responded at the Friday White House briefing when reporters asked about Kim's health. "We'll have something to say about it at the appropriate time."

Kim's appearance on Friday follows a two-week period of public speculation and rumors about his health following an April 20 rumor, sparked by an anonymous source featured in the South Korea-based media outlet Daily NK, stating that he was in ill health after undergoing heart surgery on April 12.

U.S. intelligence subsequently discounted these rumors. Two U.S. officials told Newsweek on April 21 they had no reason to consider Kim as suffering from any sort of serious illness or grave health concern. Around the same time, Yonhap reported a South Korean government official who said no unusual reports from North Korea suggested that Kim was ill.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves from a balcony of the Grand People's Study House following a mass parade marking the end of the 7th Workers Party Congress in Kim Il-Sung Square in Pyongyang on May 10, 2016. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty

Speculation about Kim's health was fueled after he missed the Day of the Sun celebrations dedicated to his frequently exalted grandfather, and another national holiday commemorating the national founder's establishment of anti-Japanese guerrilla units.

Around April 26, satellite photography showed the dictator's personal train stationed near the country's eastern coastal city of Wonsan where he owns a villa.

On April 28, two experts on North Korean affairs and other sources said the leader could simply be keeping a low public profile to avoid potential exposure to coronavirus.

Although the U.S. and North Korea held its first-ever meeting between sitting leaders in 2017, no progress has been made in attaining a denuclearization agreement. In 2018, North Korea declared a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests. However, Kim said this past New Year's Eve that he no longer felt bound by the moratorium.

Newsweek has reached out to the White House for comment. It hadn't responded by the time of publication.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un Appears In Public, Ending Weeks Of Speculation About His Health | World