N. Korea plays event as a coup for pro­pa­ganda

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - 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.

On Wed­nes­day, a day after the meet­ing be­tween Kim and Trump in Sin­ga­pore, North Korea’s state 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 North Kore­ans that Trump agreed to Kim’s de­mand to halt joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with South Korea as long as talks to­ward eas­ing ten­sions con­tinue. They also sug­gested that Trump said he would lift sanc­tions as ne­go­ti­a­tions pro­gressed.

Late Wed­nes­day, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo re­but­ted the claim, say­ing the U.S. will not ease sanc­tions un­til the North de­nu­cle­arizes.

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 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.”

Kim Jong Un 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 pledge to de­nu­cle­arize were re­ported by state me­dia Wed­nes­day within that con­text — that Py­ongyang would re­spond to eas­ing of what it sees as 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,” North Korean me­dia re­ported.

That doesn’t seem to pin the North down to the concrete and uni­lat­eral mea­sures Trump said he would de­mand go­ing into the talks. It’s also un­clear 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.

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 char­tered Air China flight that brought him from Py­ongyang.

That is an­other key to what lies ahead. 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.

No place has more at stake with the out­reach to Kim than South Korea. Yet so much has hap­pened so quickly that ar­gu­ments and view­points of just last week sud­denly seem old.

Now, South Kore­ans are try­ing to de­cide how they feel about on­ce­u­nimag­in­able changes, among them the ap­par­ent halt of U.S.-South Korean mil­i­tary ex­er­cises and the di­rect line to the White House that Kim now pos­si­bly en­joys.

The ri­val Koreas held rare high-level mil­i­tary talks Thurs­day to dis­cuss re­duc­ing ten­sions across their heav­ily for­ti­fied bor­der. Seoul’s De­fense Min­istry said the mil­i­tary talks will fo­cus on car­ry­ing out agree­ments from a sum­mit be­tween Kim and South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in where they vowed to take ma­te­ri­al­ized steps to re­duce mil­i­tary ten­sions and elim­i­nate the dan­ger of war. It’s pos­si­ble North Korean of­fi­cials dur­ing the talks at the bor­der vil­lage of Pan­munjom will seek a firm com­mit­ment from the South on stop­ping its mil­i­tary drills with the United States.

Some pro-mil­i­tary South Kore­ans feel deeply be­trayed by Trump’s sur­prise an­nounce­ment about sus­pend­ing joint armed forces drills, which have been the most vivid dis­play of the U.S.-South Korea al­liance since the Korean War.

Rights ac­tivists com­plain that Moon and Trump are let­ting the North off the hook over its atro­cious record of abuses and re­pres­sion.

A top govern­ment of­fi­cial, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity, said of­fi­cials in Seoul were still try­ing to fig­ure out if Trump’s ref­er­ence to “war games” re­ally meant all the drills, whose big­gest ma­neu­vers can in­clude more than 300,000 U.S. and South Korean sol­diers and others.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

North Kore­ans read a news­pa­per re­port­ing on the sum­mit. The me­dia mes­sage to the masses was clear: It was a big suc­cess for leader Kim Jong Un and came about as a re­sult of his wise lead­er­ship.

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