US, Western officials believe N. Korean leader Kim Jong Il may be gravely ill

WASHINGTON (AP) âÄî Western officials are closely watching signs that North Korea’s unpredictable dictator Kim Jong Il may be gravely ill. Incapacity of the man North Koreans call the “Dear Leader” would have serious implications for the international effort to get North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons. There was no sign of Kim at a closely watched parade Tuesday marking the 60th anniversary of North Korea’s founding, and the country’s state media was silent about his absence. His last reported public appearance was in mid-August. “There is reason to believe Kim Jong Il has suffered a serious health set back, possibly a stroke,” a Western intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe sensitive intelligence gathering. Another official said rumors and reports of a possible health setback were based in part on intelligence gathered by other nations. White House press secretary Dana Perino said Tuesday that the Bush administration was watching the situation, but, “There’s nothing I can provide for you now.”