Kim Jong Un rides white horse on sacred mountain as nuclear deadline approaches

By Hyung-Jin Kim

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rode a white horse on a sacred mountain during his second symbolic visit in less than two months, as his government warned over any US refusal to make concessions in ongoing nuclear diplomacy by the end of the year.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) released photos showing Mr Kim taking a horse riding to the snow-covered Mount Paektu along with his wife and other top lieutenants, all of whom were on white horses.

Mr Kim previously climbed the mountain, the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula, on horseback in mid-October.

Mount Paektu and white horses are symbols associated with the Kim family’s dynastic rule. Mr Kim has made previous visits there before making major decisions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the sacred site (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service/AP)

The North Korean leader said that “we should always live and work in the offensive spirit of Paektu”, according to KCNA.

“The imperialists and class enemies make a more frantic attempt to undermine the ideological, revolutionary and class positions of our party.”

On Monday, Mr Kim visited Samjiyon at the foot of Mount Paektu to attend a ceremony marking the completion of work that has transformed the town into “an epitome of modern civilisation”, KCNA said.

It said the town has a museum on the Kim family, a ski slope, cultural centres, a school, a hospital and factories.

Samjiyon is one of main construction projects Mr Kim launched in an effort to improve his people’s livelihoods and strengthen his rule at home.

A completion ceremony is held at the new city Samjiyon (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service/AP)

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 programme.

The latest mountain trip comes as a year-end deadline set by Mr Kim for Washington to come up with new proposals to salvage nuclear diplomacy is approaching.

The negotiations remain stalled for months, with North Korea trying to win major sanctions relief and outside security assurances in return for partial denuclearisation.

The North’s foreign ministry warned it is 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 US takes.

The North is seeking concessions and an easing of sanctions in return for partial denuclearisation (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service/AP)

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 North’s east coast.

On Tuesday, US president Donald Trump urged Mr Kim to follow through on what he described as a promise to denuclearise the North. Mr Trump and Mr Kim have met three times since North Korea entered nuclear negotiations last year.

“My relationship with Kim Jong Un is really good, but that doesn’t mean he won’t abide by the agreements … he said he will denuclearise,” Mr Trump said.

“Now, 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.”

Mr Trump also revived a nickname he had previously given to Mr Kim when he traded crude insults and threats of destruction during a provocative run of North Korean nuclear and missile tests in 2017.

Mr Kim “likes sending rockets up, doesn’t he?” Mr Trump said. “That’s why I call him Rocket Man.”