SEOUL – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rode a white horse up a sacred mountain in his second symbolic visit in less than two months, state media reported Wednesday, as his military chief lashed out at U.S. President Donald Trump for talking about a possible military option against the North.
Mount Paektu and white horses are symbols associated with the Kim family's dynastic rule. Kim has made previous visits there before making major decisions.
The comments by his military chief are the latest sign that prospects for a resumption of nuclear talks between North Korea and the U.S. are unclear. North Korea has threatened more provocation if the United States fails to meet a year-end deadline set by Kim for it to make a proposal to salvage the negotiations.
On Wednesday night, Pak Jong Chon, chief of the General Staff of the (North) Korean People's Army, issued a statement berating Trump for suggesting that the U.S. could use military force against North Korea if diplomacy fails and warned that any attack would cause a “horrible” consequence for the Americans.
“One thing I would like to make clear is that the use of armed forces is not the privilege of the U.S. only,” Park said.
He said Kim was also “displeased to hear” about Trump’s comments.
Speaking in London where he was attending a NATO summit, Trump on Tuesday said his relationship with Kim was “really good” but also called for him to follow up on a commitment to denuclearize. Trump added, “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 has previously threatened to bring down “fire and fury” on North Korea and derided Kim as “little rocket man” when he carried out a series of weapons tests in 2017 aimed at building nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching the mainland U.S. But his comment Tuesday on the possible use of military force enraged North Korea because he hasn’t recently used such threats and instead has bestowed Kim with praise. In September last year, Trump called Kim "very open" and "terrific" and said he and Kim "fell in love."
In London, Trump also said Kim “likes sending rockets up, doesn’t he?” He added that “That’s why I call him rocket man.”
North Korea didn’t immediately respond to Trump’s “rocket man” comment. Kim previously called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”
Earlier Wednesday, the North’s state media released many photos showing Kim riding a horse to snow-covered Mount Paektu along with his wife and other top lieutenants, all on white horses. Kim last climbed the mountain, the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula, on horseback in mid-October.
“The imperialists and class enemies make a more frantic attempt to undermine the ideological, revolutionary and class positions of our party,” Kim said in an apparent reference to the U.S. and South Korea. “We should always live and work in the offensive spirit of Paektu.”
The nuclear negotiations have remained stalled for months, with North Korea trying to win major sanctions relief and outside security assurances in return for partial denuclearization. Kim and Trump have met three times.
The North’s Foreign Ministry warned Tuesday it’s entirely up to the United States to choose what “Christmas gift” it gets from the North. 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 Norths’ east coast.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday 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.” The specific agenda was unclear.
On Monday, Kim visited Samjiyon county at the foot of Mount Paektu to attend a ceremony marking the completion of work that has transformed the town to “an epitome of modern civilization,” KCNA said. It said the town has a museum on the Kim family, a ski slope, cultural centers, a school, a hospital and factories.
Samjiyon was one of the 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.
Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.