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North holsters its fiery rhetoric ahead of talks

June 05,2018
One week before a highly anticipated summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Pyongyang’s state media has retreated from its usual condemnation of the United States in an apparent effort to avoid provoking the Trump administration.

Both the Rodong Sinmun and Korean Central News Agency did not publish their regular criticism of South Korea or the United States on Monday. Just a day earlier, it slammed the two countries’ joint military drills scheduled for June 27 to Aug. 2.

In place of its regular columns devoted to U.S. and South Korean issues on page six, the Rodong Sinmun carried two lengthy editorials praising Kim Jong-il, the former North Korean leader and late father of Kim Jong-un. Beneath them were two news articles on South Korea, but neither contained criticism of the current government. One was about a statue in Busan, and the other covered former President Lee Myung-bak’s corruption trial.

Such careful treading appears to have been conditioned by Trump’s abrupt letter on May 24 canceling his meeting with Kim. His letter cited “tremendous anger and open hostility” from Pyongyang as the reason, a reference to North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui’s slight toward U.S. Vice President Mike Pence after Pence delivered a stern statement on the North’s denuclearization.

Alarmed by Trump’s sudden withdrawal, Gen. Kim Yong-chol, who oversees inter-Korean policy as director of North Korea’s United Front Department, flew to the United States on May 30 in an effort to revive the summit. He met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York and traveled to Washington to deliver a letter from Kim Jong-un to Trump.

Apparently placated by the North’s conciliatory gestures, Trump announced on Sunday that the summit was back on and scheduled for June 12 in Singapore. The White House’s mercurial stance appears to have softened the North’s rhetoric, indicating Pyongyang is on its toes to ensure the summit goes through as planned.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]