North Korea’s Kim Jong Un visits sacred peak on horseback, vows to fight U.S. sanctions
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to surmount U.S.-led sanctions on his country in state media reports Wednesday alongside evocative propaganda images of him riding a white horse seen as foretelling significant decisions before his own deadline for U.S. movement on nuclear talks expires.
The images in his country’s official media showed Kim riding a white horse to climb a snow-covered Mt. Paektu. The location and the animal are both symbols associated with the Kim family’s dynastic rule. The highest point on the Korean Peninsula is sacred to North Koreans and Kim has visited it before making previous major decisions such as the 2013 execution of his powerful uncle and his 2018 entrance into diplomacy with Seoul and Washington.
The images and Kim’s comments were released days after his country’s first nuclear negotiations with the U.S. in more than seven months fell apart.
South Korean media quickly speculated Kim may be considering a new strategy in his dealings with the U.S. because he’s previously demanded Washington come up with new proposals to salvage the stalemated diplomacy by the end of December.
“He, sitting on the horseback atop Mt. Paektu, recollected with deep emotion the road of arduous struggle he covered for the great cause of building the most powerful country with faith and will as firm as Mt. Paektu,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.
North Korean documents say Kim’s grandfather and national founder Kim Il Sung had an anti-Japan guerrilla base on Paektu’s slopes during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. The official biography of Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, says the second-generation leader was born on Paektu when a double rainbow filled the skies.
The white horse is also a propaganda symbol for the Kim family that has ruled North Korea for seven decades with a strong personality cult surrounding family members. State media have occasionally shown Kim, his sister and his father riding white horses. The symbolism goes back to Kim Il Sung, who according to the North’s official narrative, rode a white horse while fighting against Japanese colonial rulers.
KCNA said Kim also visited nearby construction sites in Samjiyon County and complained about U.S.-led U.N. sanctions imposed on his country because of its nuclear programs.
“The situation of the country is difficult owing to the ceaseless sanctions and pressure by the hostile forces and there are many hardships and trials facing us,” Kim was quoted as saying. “But our people grew stronger through the trials and found their own way of development and learned how to always win in the face of trials.”
Kim also said “the pain the U.S.-led anti-(North Korea) hostile forces inflicted upon the Korean people ... turned into their anger,” according to KCNA. “No matter what persistent efforts the enemy make, we can live well with our own efforts and pave the avenue to development and prosperity in our own way.”
North Korea has been slapped with 11 rounds of sanctions since 2006. The sanctions have been toughened since 2016 when Kim began conducting a series of high-profile nuclear and missile tests, and they include a full ban on key exports such as coal, textiles and seafood and a significant curtailing of oil imports.
During his second summit with President Trump in Vietnam in February, Kim demanded the United States lift the newer and more biting sanctions in return for dismantling his main nuclear complex, a limited denuclearization step. Trump rejected that, and the summit collapsed without reaching any deal. The two leaders held a brief, impromptu meeting at the Korean border in late June and agreed to resume talks.
Their nuclear negotiators met in Stockholm this month for the first time since the Vietnam summit but the talks broke down again. North Korea blamed the U.S. for the breakdown and threatened to resume nuclear and long-range missile tests.
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