WASHINGTON -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Il appeared to be "in full control of his government" when an American mission met with him last week to free two imprisoned U.S. journalists, White House national security adviser James L. Jones said Sunday.
Jones, appearing on news programs, said that despite months of credible reports that Kim was struggling with grave health problems, "he seemed in control of his faculties" and "sounded very reasoned" in wide-ranging discussions with former President Bill Clinton.
Kim's health and control over his government have been key issues in the region for months amid reports from intelligence agencies that the leader's health setbacks have set off a struggle for power in the impoverished Stalinist state.
The White House has so far released little information on the 31/2 hours of conversation between Clinton and the secretive dictator. Jones provided few additional details, saying the debriefing of mission members was not yet complete.
He stopped short of predicting that the 20-hour visit would lead to a new engagement with North Korea over its disputed nuclear program, saying on NBC's "Meet the Press" only that "time will tell."
Jones, who oversaw the White House effort to organize the North Korea mission, said on "Fox News Sunday" that the conversations between Clinton and the North Koreans were "respectful and cordial in tone." Asked if he could guarantee that the U.S. team had given Kim nothing more than a highly publicized photo opportunity, Jones said, "I can do that absolutely, with a straight face."
Jones signaled that U.S. policymakers are grappling with another diplomatic crisis set off by young journalists wandering into a different country at odds with the U.S. government.
Referring to Iran's arrest of three young Americans near its border with Iraq, Jones said the administration had "sent strong messages that we'd like these three young people released as soon as possible."
The Iranian government acknowledged Sunday that it was holding the Americans, who claimed they were unaware they were crossing the border into Iran when they went hiking in northern Iraq.
Jones said the administration was prepared to try to deal with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, despite an internal political crisis in Iran that raised questions about the legitimacy of the hard-line government.
"We have to deal with whatever the central authority is," he said.
On CNN, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice strongly criticized Iran's trials of Iranians who protested the results of the June 12 presidential election.
"These are show trials, and they are clearly a demonstration of the fact that the Iranian leadership is not reconciled to the concerns of its people regarding the validity of the elections," she said.
Jones also said he was "90 percent sure" that the supreme Taliban leader in Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a strike from a U.S. drone last week, despite claims from Mehsud's organization that he survived.