STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Is Kim Jong Un for real?

If all the world had seen of Kim Jong Un until now was the smiling, tactile, affectionate young man who strolled nonc...

Posted: May 2, 2018 11:12 AM
Updated: May 2, 2018 11:12 AM

If all the world had seen of Kim Jong Un until now was the smiling, tactile, affectionate young man who strolled nonchalantly through the wooded glades of the demilitarized zone on Friday, it could be forgiven for thinking a merciless autocrat had been deeply misunderstood.

Friday's historic encounter between North and South Korea gave a world leader who has hitherto shunned the foreign media more camera time than ever before. Every mannerism, every lift of an eyebrow was studied and speculated upon.

For most of the day, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in were followed around by television cameras and photographers as they picked their way through a series of intricately choreographed scenes in Panmunjom, the "peace village" in the DMZ that was the venue for their talks.

There was the moment when Kim stepped into the South, across the demarcation line that separates the two Koreas (and Moon briefly stepped over into the North). Then they held almost two hours of talks in the morning, planted a symbolic tree, and strolled alone in a wooded area of the DMZ where they spoke without officials for 30 minutes.

They embraced, held hands, and traded pleasantries. Kim even thanked the media for coming.

Finally, in the late afternoon, the substance: The Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification on the Korean Peninsula, which commits the two countries to denuclearization and talks to bring a formal end to conflict between the two nations.

So can it really be possible that, after decades of mutual distrust that recently appeared to bring the two nations to the brink of war, a complete reversal is on the cards and that peace is a realistic prospect?

The big players who loom large over the Korean conflict appear deeply skeptical. Notwithstanding President Donald Trump's enthusiastic tweets ("Good things are happening, but only time will tell!") the White House statement was decidedly cool.

"On the occasion of Republic of Korea President Moon Jae-in's historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, we wish the Korean people well," it said. "We are hopeful that talks will achieve progress toward a future of peace and prosperity for the entire Korean Peninsula."

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could barely conceal his doubts. "I strongly ... hope that North Korea will take concrete actions. I will keep close eyes on North Korea's actions from now," he said. In other words, I'll believe denuclearization when I see it.

Some longtime North Korea watchers harbor significant doubts that there could have been any real transformation of the man who just under a year ago spoke of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the US mainland as a "gift package to the Yankees."

"How many pictures of him are there where he's at a nuclear facility at a missile test and he's smiling and happy?" asked Catherine Dill, a Senior Research Associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

"Just because he seems like a jolly man doesn't mean that his intentions are pure, or that he's unable to launch a missile again," she told CNN. "A lot of the summit, even if the true intention of President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un was to work towards peace at some point, there's a lot of pageantry involved. So in some sense, he was acting."

Security and nonproliferation experts nevertheless welcomed Friday's historic meeting as a significant achievement for Moon and his policy of engagement with North Korea. But while some progress may occur, some see the chances of denuclearization, at least in the sense that the West would understand it, as slim.

"The prospects of North Korea dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals remain as dim as ever," said Miha Hribernik, a senior Asia analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

"Once the cameras are switched off and the enthusiasm over Friday's summit declaration -- which promises a peaceful and nuclear-free Korean peninsula -- subsides, both sides will need to roll up their sleeves and get to work," Hribernik said. "We continue to maintain our long-standing view that North Korea under Kim Jong Un has no intention of unilaterally denuclearizing without the kind of security guarantees South Korea and the US cannot realistically provide."

Hribernik wrote that the North Korean "sudden charm offensive" was designed to "extract as many economic and security concessions as possible while sacrificing as little as it can in return."

The devil is certainly in the details, agrees Catherine Dill. "It's a very overused term but in this case it's absolutely true, if denuclearization is on the table -- which in fact I'm skeptical it is even though it's mentioned in the joint declaration -- that is a very complex process that requires agreement on the tiniest of details and I'm skeptical we'll get to that point anytime soon."

"I think we should keep in mind that there have been a number of agreements in the past that have never been successfully implemented," said David Maxwell, retired US Army Special Forces colonel and a fellow at the Institute of Korean American Studies.

"We should be hopeful and encouraged by the events in Panmunjom (inside the DMZ), but we also need to keep a clear-eyed view of the nature of the Kim family regime, and the history of its aggression, threats and provocations, stated claim to unify the peninsula under the North's control, and the documented human rights atrocities that are being committed against some 25 million Koreans living in the North," he said to CNN.

"Can a one-day event change the nature of the brutal Kim family regime that has existed for some seven decades? We should never forget the people living in severe oppression in the north while we admire the charm offensive conducted by Kim Jong Un," Maxwell said.

For any future meeting with US President Donald Trump, a major takeaway from Friday's events was in the ease with which Kim Jong Un comported himself. He joked about the state of North Korean streets, and apologized beforehand to President Moon that he would need to come by plane when he should come visit the capital because the roads were so bad.

That self-assurance speaks to a larger challenge for Trump and Moon, said Catherine Dill. "To me, Kim Jong Un's confidence is much more indicative of his own confidence as a de facto nuclear power, it's much more indicative of that to me than a sincere desire for peace," she told CNN.

"Every day I watch North Korean TV and I read the newspapers and media, but actually, the propaganda work of North Korea is saying quite different things to its citizens," Thae Yong-ho, North Korea former deputy ambassador to the UK told CNN.

"It's saying that the current, this kind of peaceful atmosphere around North Korea is the direct achievement and outcome of the completion of nuclear weapons development."

It's unlikely the US will do anything to help Kim resolve economic challenges at home before North Korea shows is actively dismantling its nuclear program and allows inspectors in to carry out tests and verifications.

President Trump evinced his own continued skepticism even after Friday's momentous events. "After a furious year of missile launches and nuclear testing, a historic meeting between North and South Korea is now taking place," he tweeted later Friday.

Around an hour later, he tweeted his thanks to China, and President Xi Jinping, for all the help he had given the US, "particularly at the border with North Korea. Without him it would have been a much longer, tougher process!"

China sent congratulations on the "successful summit," while reinforcing its desire to be included in future talks. "We hope and believe that the North and South Korean sides will be able to implement the consensus reached by their leaders and continue to push for reconciliation and cooperation," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang.

"We hope all relevant parties keep the momentum of dialogue, work together to promote the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula as well as the process of a political settlement on the peninsula issue," Kang said.

China's President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Pyongyang, possibly before Kim meets with Trump. As the likely dates for a Trump-Kim summit approach, the stakes for the meeting grow ever higher.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 90942

Reported Deaths: 2021
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin26054922
Ramsey10572318
Dakota7216125
Anoka5801132
Stearns381223
Washington361055
Scott245833
Olmsted231927
Nobles193616
Blue Earth16116
Wright15407
St. Louis140034
Carver13607
Rice13088
Mower12935
Clay128140
Sherburne110414
Kandiyohi9332
Winona85218
Lyon6524
Waseca5338
Freeborn5223
Steele5222
Benton5153
Watonwan5064
Nicollet50416
Todd4792
Chisago4581
McLeod4522
Le Sueur4454
Crow Wing43918
Otter Tail4004
Beltrami3795
Goodhue3329
Martin3299
Pine2840
Itasca28213
Polk2754
Isanti2650
Douglas2622
Becker2482
Carlton2451
Cottonwood2190
Pipestone2159
Unassigned21252
Morrison2081
Dodge2020
Chippewa1971
Sibley1843
Meeker1832
Brown1802
Wabasha1800
Yellow Medicine1622
Murray1572
Rock1550
Mille Lacs1503
Redwood1420
Renville1367
Jackson1341
Faribault1320
Cass1313
Swift1231
Roseau1170
Houston1140
Pennington1121
Fillmore1110
Koochiching1113
Kanabec1098
Lincoln1020
Stevens931
Pope890
Hubbard830
Aitkin731
Big Stone700
Wadena670
Grant594
Lake570
Wilkin563
Norman520
Marshall501
Lac qui Parle470
Mahnomen461
Red Lake390
Traverse300
Clearwater260
Lake of the Woods211
Kittson120
Cook60

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 80698

Reported Deaths: 1275
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk15366259
Woodbury504263
Johnson501127
Black Hawk437586
Linn3808108
Story331517
Dubuque282341
Scott281827
Dallas269838
Pottawattamie200238
Buena Vista195112
Marshall176234
Sioux13723
Wapello127157
Webster120214
Clinton107419
Muscatine106854
Plymouth105820
Crawford10145
Cerro Gordo100221
Warren9326
Jasper77232
Des Moines7407
Marion7265
Tama69431
Carroll6375
Henry6204
Lee5997
Wright5631
Dickinson4876
Boone4788
Bremer4687
Washington43211
Louisa42515
Mahaska34619
Delaware3423
Franklin34218
Hamilton3153
Jackson3043
Floyd3023
Winneshiek2995
Clay2963
Benton2871
Hardin2841
Winnebago27511
Butler2622
Lyon2603
Clarke2563
Emmet25210
Poweshiek2528
Buchanan2511
Allamakee2486
Jones2483
Shelby2441
Clayton2343
Guthrie2315
Kossuth2310
Cedar2231
Chickasaw2220
Sac2200
Grundy2062
Madison2062
Cherokee2042
Fayette2002
Iowa1921
Mitchell1830
Howard1826
Harrison1812
Humboldt1763
Hancock1742
Calhoun1722
Mills1691
Palo Alto1630
Pocahontas1542
Lucas1526
Monroe15010
Page1420
Monona1401
Cass1362
Jefferson1341
Osceola1300
Appanoose1253
Taylor1241
Union1223
Davis1164
Van Buren1111
Ida1030
Worth1030
Keokuk911
Fremont900
Greene890
Montgomery885
Wayne842
Audubon681
Adair671
Decatur600
Ringgold442
Adams290
Unassigned70
Rochester
Clear
58° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 58°
Mason City
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 55°
Albert Lea
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 61°
Austin
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 57°
Charles City
Broken Clouds
55° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 55°
Warmer Weather Ahead
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events