If North Korean leader Kim Jong Il were dying or dead the world has reason to be concerned, a former Kansas University administrator who spent a year in that country said.
The situation is even more complicated because North Korea has a few nuclear bombs, said David Lambertson, former U.S. representative for the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization. The organization was established in 1994 to implement a U.S.-North Korean agreement that froze that country's nuclear power plant development center.
"I think the whole reason for concern about what happens to North Korea is its ability to be disruptive and potentially dangerous in that part of the world," Lambertson said Wednesday.
Lambertson said he knew only what he read in news accounts about Kim, who hasn't been seen publicly for several weeks.
"It sounds like there's some seriousness imputed in all these rumors, but I've not talked to anybody in a position to have inside information," said Lambertson, who lives in Jefferson County.
North Korean leaders have disputed the rumors about Kim's bad health. But if he were dead, there is no process for the succession of power in Korea. It would be difficult to discern who a new leader would be, Lambertson said.
"I don't know enough about the system and I'm skeptical of anybody who thinks they do to make a prediction," he said. "But at least the conventional wisdom is that the army is quite powerful and always has been a key factor in Kim Jong Il's regime and undoubtedly would have an important role in the succession."
Lambertson, who also served as U.S. ambassador to Thailand, started and managed a partnership program between KU and Fort Leavenworth before retiring earlier this year. He said he intended to closely watch what happens in North Korea.
"Let me remind you this is all pure speculation," he said. "We might see Kim Jong Il tomorrow inspecting a chicken farm or something."