North Korean leader makes a symbolic gesture as nuclear deadline nears

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rides to Mt. Paektu with his wife, Ri Sol Ju, right, and other top lieutenants.
(Korean Central News Agency)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rode a white horse up a sacred mountain on his second symbolic visit in less than two months, state media reported Wednesday, as his country is threatening provocation if the United States refuses to make concessions in nuclear diplomacy by year’s end.

The Korean Central News Agency released photos showing Kim riding on snow-covered Mt. Paektu with his wife and top lieutenants, all on white horses. Kim also climbed the mountain, the highest peak on the Korean peninsula, on horseback in mid-October.

Mt. Paektu and white horses are symbols associated with the Kim family’s dynastic rule. Kim has made previous visits there before making major decisions.


Kim said that “we should always live and work in the offensive spirit of Paektu,” according to the news agency. “The imperialists and class enemies make a more frantic attempt to undermine the ideological, revolutionary and class positions of our party.”

On Monday, Kim visited the city of Samjiyon at the foot of Mt. Paektu to attend a ceremony marking the completion of work that has transformed the city into “an epitome of modern civilization,” the news agency said. It said the city has a museum about the Kim family, a ski slope, cultural centers, a school, a hospital and factories.

Samjiyon was one of main construction projects that Kim launched in an effort to improve his people’s livelihoods and strengthen his rule at home. The construction spree has also been seen as a demonstration of his power in the face of international sanctions designed to squeeze his economy and get him to give up his nuclear program.

The latest mountain trip came as a year-end deadline set by Kim for Washington to come up with new proposals to salvage nuclear diplomacy is approaching. The negotiations have stalled for months, with North Korea trying to win major sanctions relief and outside security assurances in return for partial denuclearization steps.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry warned Tuesday that it’s entirely up to the United States to choose what “Christmas gift” it gets from Pyongyang. North Korean officials have previously said whether North Korea lifts its moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests depends on what actions the U.S. takes.

Last week, North Korea test-fired projectiles from what it called a super-large multiple rocket launcher that South Korea’s military said landed in the waters off the North’s east coast.


The Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday that the ruling Workers’ Party will hold a central committee meeting in late December to discuss unspecified “crucial issues” in line with “the changed situation at home and abroad.” It’s unclear what specific agendas are at stake.

Many experts say the United States is unlikely to make new proposals that would satisfy North Korea.

President Trump on Tuesday urged Kim to follow through on what he described as a promise to denuclearize North Korea. Trump and Kim have met three times since North Korea entered nuclear negotiations last year.

“My relationship with Kim Jong Un is really good, but that doesn’t mean he won’t abide by the agreements ... he said he will denuclearize,” Trump said during a visit to London. “Now, we have the most powerful military we ever had, and we are by far the most powerful country in the world and hopefully we don’t have to use it. But if we do, we will use it.”

Trump also revived a nickname he had previously given Kim when he traded crude insults and threats of destruction during a provocative run in North Korean nuclear and missile tests in 2017.

Kim “likes sending rockets up, doesn’t he?” Trump said. “That’s why I call him Rocket Man.”