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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is The World. Kim Jong Il was reappointed today to another term as leader of North Korea in the country's Parliament. North Korean state-run TV ran video of Kim entering Parliament to thunderous applause that you're hearing now. This is some of the first video footage shown of Kim Jong Il since he reportedly suffered a stroke last August. The World's Matthew Bell has seen this video, and Matthew, how did the so-called Dear Leader look?
MATTHEW BELL: Well, he looked thin, frankly. He looked a bit shaky on his feet as he walked in. He clapped, but you could tell his left hand was hardly moving at all. In general, he looked like somebody who might just be recovering from a pretty serious illness or as reported a stroke.
MULLINS: Clearly, that didn't diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd, which we can slightly hear still in the background applauding.
BELL: Absolutely. In fact, he sat down and was sort of seen urging everyone else to sit down â€“ and it took a few seconds for them to take their seats. Lisa, I talked about this with Alan Romberg earlier today to get his take on the status of Kim Jong Il's leadership. Romberg is a former State Department official who has been following North Korea since the 1980s. Here's what he had to say.
ALAN ROMBERG: For a guy of his age and health record, probably it's not the most hopeful prognosis over a period of time. But there's no reason to assume that he, at this point, really can't function to make major decisions and so on. My point is that I don't think he's being put up there like some sort of cardboard cutout while everyone else is pulling the strings behind the scenes. All signs are that he's actually involved with North Korea's leadership and playing a key role.
MULLINS: We should remember that Kim Jong Il is the Commander in Chief of the military in North Korea. He is not President; he is commander in chief.
BELL: And that's because his father, Kim Il Song, who died in 1994, is President for eternity.
MULLINS: And there's another issue here, Matthew. That has to do with the six-party talks involving North Korea?
BELL: That's right. And that's a real catch-22 in a way for the Obama administration. Alan Romberg and other experts are thinking now that this missile test might actually have been an attempt by the North Koreans to â€œkillâ€ the six-party talks, to get out of them. They think the North Koreans just don't want to participate in this multi-party format, sitting down and talking with the Japanese, with the South Koreans, with China, Russia, and the United States with the goal to get the North Koreans to give up their nuclear program.
MULLINS: Instead, North Korea wants what?
BELL: They want to sit down one-on-one in bilateral talks with the United States.
MULLINS: How come the United States says no? I mean, why would the US â€“ if it's going to talk with the North Koreans anyway, want to do it in the context of six-party talks versus one on one?
BELL: Washington hasn't ruled out having bilateral talks with the North Koreans. In fact, the Bush administration had bilateral talks with the North Koreans, but it was in the context of the six-party talks. Now, having that multi-party format is important for the United States â€“ and the Obama administration has said the same thing. They want to include Japan and South Korea, the two most important allies in the region for the United States.
MULLINS: Where the United States also has troops.
BELL: And they have a formal alliance with both South Korea and Japan.
MULLINS: All right. Thank you. The World's Matthew Bell, thanks again.
BELL: You're welcome.
MULLINS: And if you'd like to hear more about the standoff with North Korea, check out the American Influence podcast. It's hosted by Matthew Bell, in fact. You can find it along with lots of other podcasts that we produce here at The World. Just go to theworld.org /podcasts.