- The Washington Times - Monday, July 1, 2019

North Korean state media is heaping praise on Sunday’s Demilitarized Zone meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un in what analysts say is an attempt by Pyongyang’s propaganda machine to help Mr. Kim save face after the high-profile failure of the Hanoi summit four months ago.

In a spray of reports Monday, the North’s government-controlled press said the “historic” Trump-Kim handshake over the weekend represented a “dramatic turn” after a “stumbling block” that had brought U.S.-North Korea talks to a standstill following February’s summit in Vietnam.

The Hanoi summit was historic in its own right, but was cut short after U.S. and North Korean officials failed to agree to a far-reaching deal to end Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. Mr. Trump said at the time that he had to walk away because Mr. Kim was demanding sweeping sanctions relief for only a limited commitment to destroy part of his arsenal.

With U.S. analysts having argued that Mr. Kim faced subsequent pressure at home to make it appear that he still holds the upper hand in negotiations, Pyongyang’s state media on Monday painted a picture in which Mr. Trump had to reach out to the North Korean leader to restart the stalled diplomacy.

A report by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the Kim regime’s main propaganda arm, pointed out that Sunday’s meeting at Panmunjom, along the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea, took place “at the suggestion of Trump.”

Describing the development as an “amazing event,” a KCNA report went on to assert that Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim “explained issues of easing tensions on the Korean peninsula, ending the inglorious relations between the two countries and making a dramatic turn and also issues of mutual concern and interest which become a stumbling block in solving those issues.”

They also “voiced full understanding and sympathy,” the report said, according to NK News, a Seoul-based media outlet focused on North Korea.

Rachel Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst with NK News’s sister site NK Pro, noted Pyongyang’s decision to “play up the meeting having taken place at the U.S. President’s proposal.”

“It appears to track with a narrative that state media has been promoting in recent months: that Kim Jong-un can rub shoulders with any head of state at his choosing, and that he enjoys a great personal chemistry with the President of the U.S. despite the lull in DPRK-U.S. dialogue,” Ms. Lee said, according to a report circulated Monday by NK News.

Others went further.

David Maxwell, a retired Army Special Forces colonel and North Korea expert with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington, warned that the “[Kim] regime is masterful at getting something for nothing.”

“This is only the beginning,” Mr. Maxwell said in comments to reporters on Monday, asserting that the Kim regime’s “Propaganda and Agitation Department is going to exploit the hell out of this meeting.”

“It is a proverbial bonanza for them,” he added. “I am not saying this to be critical of the summit but only to emphasize that everything we do will be exploited for the regime’s propaganda messages.”

What remains to be seen whether the weekend’s developments will result in tangible progress on the nuclear negotiations front. North Korea hawks in Washington argue the Kim regime has been stalling since the first summit between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump in Singapore in June 2018.

A joint declaration both signed in Singapore said: “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to [North Korea] and Chairman Kim Jong-un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The nearly 13 months since have failed to fully clarify whether the two sides agree on what such a denuclearization would entail. The Trump administration says it would mean complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization by Pyongyang. But some analysts argue the North Koreans are demanding the removal of the U.S. defensive nuclear umbrella from all of East Asia.

As for working-level talks going forward, Mr. Trump told reporters at the Demilitarized Zone on Sunday that U.S. and North Korean officials “will meet over the next few weeks and they’re going to start a process and we’ll see what happens.”

But he also stressed that “we want a really comprehensive, good deal.”

“Speed is not the object,” the president said.

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