18 October, 2019
North Korean state media recently showed pictures of leader Kim Jong Un riding a white horse on the country's highest mountain.
The photographs were posted by the Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA. It suggested this means Kim is considering a major decision.
On the internet many people made jokes and memes about the pictures after KCNA released them.
The pictures were taken on snow-covered Mount Paektu, the highest mountain in the Koreas. This is where North Korean officials claim Kim's father, the late Kim Jong Il, was born.
KCNA said Kim's ride after the first snow of the season is a "great event of weighty importance." It noted he traveled with several high-level North Korean officials.
KCNA said, "Having witnessed the great moments of his thinking atop Mount Paektu, all the officials accompanying him were convinced with overflowing emotion and joy that there will be a great operation to strike the world with wonder again and make a step forward in the Korean revolution."
The North Korean ruling party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said the ride represented Kim's resolve to protect the country from outside pressure.
Since taking power in 2011, Kim has visited the mountain several times. Often, the trips happen before important decisions, such as having his uncle executed in 2013.
The last time Kim visited Mount Paektu was in December 2017. South Korea's Yonhap news agency noted that was just before Kim turned toward diplomacy with the United States and South Korea.
A dramatic show
Andray Abrahamian is a visiting scholar at George Mason University Korea. He said appearances on Mount Paektu have an important national purpose.
He said they connect Kim to his ancestors who led the country before him. Both appeared on horseback from time to time. "It makes sense," Abrahamian said. "Most North Koreans will never ride a horse and it seems regal, martial and dramatic."
Many Koreans in both the North and South consider Mount Paektu sacred.
What is less clear is what Kim's possible decision to "strike the world with wonder" means. Some observers suggest it is about an upcoming rocket test. Abrahamian said the language is "vague" or not very clear.
"That's the point," he added.
No agreement yet on terms of nuclear talks
North Korea recently walked away from the first working-level nuclear talks with the U.S between lower-level officials. North Korea blamed the U.S. for not proposing good solutions.
North Korea has since threatened to restart intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and nuclear tests. The North has held 11 missile tests since May. It has not carried out a long distance missile or nuclear test since 2017.
In February, nuclear talks with the U.S. broke down after President Donald Trump ended a meeting with Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam, without an agreement. Trump was unhappy with Kim's offer to take down the Yongbyon nuclear center in exchange for cancelling major sanctions.
North Korea is under severe international economic sanctions because of its nuclear weapons program and long-range missile tests. The government also has faced criticism for its record of human rights abuses.
Many North Koreans face food shortages, international aid agencies say. This is partly because of government failures, bad weather and the international economic restrictions.
U.S. and North Korean officials have not commented on what was offered at the most recent nuclear talks in Stockholm, Sweden, earlier this month.
Harry Harris is the U.S. ambassador to South Korea. He said North Korea asked the U.S. for "everything" before it offered to do anything. He made the comments to South Korea's Dong-A Ilbo newspaper.
Harris also dismissed an end-of-the-year time limit for the nuclear talks to progress. He said it was a time limit set by North Korea.
I'm Bryan Lynn.
And I'm Anne Ball.
Anne Ball wrote this story, with information from VOA News and Reuters. Mario Ritter Jr. edited it.
What do you think of this story? Write to us in the comments section below.
Words in This Story
meme – n. an amusing or interesting picture, video or design that is spreads widely through the internet
accompany – v. to go somewhere with (someone) : to be a companion for (someone)
overflow – v. to flow over the edge or top of (something)
regal – adj. of, relating to, or suitable for a king or queen
martial – adj. of or relating to war or soldiers
intercontinental – adj. traveling or occurring between continents
ballistic missile – n. a weapon that is shot through the sky over a great distance and then falls to the ground and explodes
sanction – n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country, etc. — usually plural