North Korea basks in leader’s per­for­mance

Of­fi­cial mes­sag­ing gives Kim credit for sum­mit gains

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Eric Tal­madge

PY­ONGYANG, North Korea — The news on tele­vi­sion and the front page of the rul­ing Work­ers’ Party news­pa­per was some­thing North Kore­ans never would have imag­ined just months ago — their leader Kim Jong Un warmly shak­ing hands with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

One day af­ter the meet­ing be­tween Kim and Trump in Sin­ga­pore, North Korea’s state-run me­dia were filled with images of its beam­ing leader stand­ing as an equal on the in­ter­na­tional stage with the pres­i­dent of the most pow­er­ful coun­try in the world — a re­minder of just how much of a pro­pa­ganda coup the North saw in Tues­day’s un­prece­dented sum­mit.

Dub­bing it the start of a new re­la­tion­ship be­tween their coun­tries, which are still tech­ni­cally at war, Py­ongyang’s first re­ports Wed­nes­day stressed to the North Korean peo­ple that Trump agreed to Kim’s de- mand to halt joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with South Korea as long as talks to­ward eas­ing ten­sions con­tinue and sug­gested that Trump also said he would lift sanc­tions as ne­go­ti­a­tions pro­gressed.

“Pres­i­dent Trump ap­pre­ci­ated that an at­mos­phere of peace and sta­bil­ity was cre­ated on the Korean Penin­sula and in the re­gion, al­though dis­tressed with the ex­treme dan­ger of armed clash only a few months ago, thanks to the proac­tive peace- lov­ing mea­sures taken by the re­spected Supreme Leader from the out­set of this year,” the North’s state-run Korean Cen­tral News Agency said in a sum­mary of the meet­ing.

The me­dia mes­sage to the masses was clear: This is a big suc­cess for Kim — known in the North as the Mar­shal — and the re­sult of his wise lead­er­ship.

Kim Ky­ong Sun, who watched the news on a large screen out­side Py­ongyang’s main train sta­tion, said she felt a “rad­i­cal change” was un­der­way in her coun­try’s re­la­tion­ship with the United States, which she said has been a hos­tile na­tion.

But she quickly added: “As long as we have our Mar­shal, the fu­ture of our coun­try will be bright.”

The sum­mit capped a swift and as­ton­ish­ing turn of events that be­gan on New Year’s Day with a pledge by Kim to reach out to the world now that his nu­clear forces have been com­pleted. His fo­cus on diplo­macy, in­clud­ing ear­lier meet­ings with the lead­ers of China and South Korea, is a sharp con­trast with his rapid-fire test­ing of long-range mis­siles and the fiery ex­changes of threats and in­sults last year that cre­ated real fears of a war on the di­vided penin­sula.

Kim has framed the switch as a nat­u­ral next step now that he has what he stresses is a cred­i­ble and vi­able nu­clear ar­se­nal ca­pa­ble of keep­ing the U.S. at bay. The fram­ing that he went into the sum­mit as an equal and from a po­si­tion of strength is cru­cial within North Korea, af­ter en­dur­ing years of tough sanc­tions while it pur­sued its nu­clear am­bi­tions.

Kim’s vows to de­nu­cle­arize were re­ported by state me­dia Wed­nes­day within that con­text — that Py­ongyang would re­spond to eas- North Kore­ans look Wed­nes­day at a dis­play of gov­ern­ment re­ports on Tues­day’s sum­mit. ing of what it sees as the hos­tile U.S. pol­icy with com­men­su­rate but grad­ual moves to­ward “the com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula.”

“Kim Jong Un and Trump had the shared recog­ni­tion to the ef­fect that it is im­por­tant to abide by the prin­ci­ple of step-by-step and si­mul­ta­ne­ous ac­tion in achiev­ing peace, sta­bil­ity and de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula,” KCNA re­ported.

That doesn’t seem to pin the North down to the con­crete and uni­lat­eral mea­sures that Trump said he would de­mand go­ing into the talks. It’s also un- clear what sig­nif­i­cant changes could oc­cur now that they seem to be mov­ing to­ward more peace­ful re­la­tions. Both sides promised to push the process for­ward quickly, and Trump and Kim ex­changed in­vi­ta­tions to each other to visit their na­tions’ cap­i­tals.

In­ter­est­ingly, the North made no se­cret of China’s be­hind-the-scenes pres­ence at the sum­mit. A flurry of me­dia cov­er­age the day Kim ar­rived in Sin­ga­pore showed him wav­ing from the door of the spe­cially char­tered Air China flight that brought him from Py­ongyang.

Kim’s big­gest task in the months ahead will most likely be to try to push China, his coun­try’s key trad­ing part­ner, to lift its sanc­tions and to en­tice South Korea to start once again of­fer­ing cru­cial in­vest­ment in joint ven­tures and in­fra­struc­ture projects.

In the mean­time, the North ap­pears to be bask­ing in its leader’s new sta­tus.

“Sin­ga­pore, the coun­try of the epoch-mak­ing meet­ing much awaited by the whole world, was awash with thou­sands of do­mes­tic and for­eign jour­nal­ists and a large crowd of masses to see this day’s mo­ment which will re­main long in his­tory,” KCNA noted.

MINORU IWASAKI/KYODO NEWS

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