International media organizations and analysts are raising concerns that photos released recently by Pyongyang to prove the health of leader Kim Jong Il are falsified. VOA's Kurt Achin has more from Seoul.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told interviewers this week he did not oppose a summit between incoming President Obama and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. He said he was confident Mr. Obama would listen carefully to South Korean positions and not allow Pyongyang to isolate the South.
The feasibility of such a summit may be in question, however, due to the unresolved matter of Kim Jong Il's health. He is believed to be recovering from a stroke he suffered earlier this year. Last week, North Korea released what it says are recent photographs of its leader visiting military officers. However, there is increasing speculation those photos are doctored.
Brian Myers specializes in North Korean propaganda and media at South Korea's Dongseo University. He is among those who believe the recent photos were composed using photo modification software such as Photoshop.
"Considering how advanced their animation studios are, I'm a little bit surprised that they couldn't do a better job photoshopping these pictures," he said. "I mean, a South Korean University student could probably have done a better job."
In a group photo of Kim Jong Il posing with top military officers, the North Korean leader's shadow is cast in a completely different direction than that of his subordinates. A black line that appears behind the officers on both sides of him disappears where he is standing. A British media report cites experts who say the photographic pixels making up Kim Jong Il's image are mismatched to the rest of the photo.
Myers says this apparent doctoring is nothing new for Pyongyang.
"North Korea has been falsifying or forging photographs for many years, but always very crudely, and almost always with the intention of inventing or reinventing recent history," he said.
The distinction between then and now, says Myers, is that North Korean authorities composed images for a domestic audience - rather than skeptical international viewers.
"They're used to forging photographs for people who are inclined to want to believe... they've never had to worry much about realism in the past," said Myers.
North Korea's authoritarian system is so dependent on Kim Jong Il personally that it is an open question how long the state apparatus could function without him. Therefore, the state of Kim Jong Il's health is a serious matter of international security in this part of the world.
Myers says the North Korean leader is probably worse off than the world thinks - because Pyongyang could have ended speculation with a timely, and genuine, photograph.
"If he is well enough to travel halfway across the country and visit generals at a military outpost, then he's well enough to receive a high-ranking, pro-North Korean visitor, and pose with that person in front of the usual backdrop and put the speculation to rest forever," he said. "And the fact that he hasn't done that speaks volumes."
South Korea has kept relatively silent on the photographs, with officials saying only that they were unable to confirm their veracity at this time.
Separately, a major Japanese broadcaster reported Tuesday that Kim Jong Il may have had a second stroke. The report quotes a South Korean source who has apparently consulted with U.S. intelligence officials. It is impossible to confirm the report at this point.