North Korean state media on Wednesday posted a slideshow of leader Kim Jong Un scaling the country’s highest mountain on horseback, and suggested the display means he is considering a major decision.
The photos, posted in the Korean Central News Agency, showed Kim wearing a puffy tan overcoat and glasses, sitting atop a white horse whose bridle and harness appeared to be covered in sparkling, silver gemstones.
The photoshoot was conducted on the snow-covered Paektu Mountain, where Kim’s father, the late Kim Jong Il, is said to have been born, according to North Korea’s official mythology.
KCNA said Kim’s march on horseback during the first snow of the season is a “great event of weighty importance,” noting he was accompanied by several senior North Korean officials.
“Having witnessed the great moments of his thinking atop Mt. Paektu, all the officials accompanying him were convinced with overflowing emotion and joy that there will be a great operation to strike the world with wonder again and make a step forward in the Korean revolution,” KCNA reported.
Since taking power in 2011, Kim has visited the mountain on several occasions, often before making key decisions, such as having his uncle executed in 2013. His previous visit came in December 2017, just before Kim pivoted toward diplomacy with the United States and South Korea, noted South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
The visit also has important domestic purposes, said Andray Abrahamian, a visiting scholar at George Mason University Korea.
“It links him to his forebears, who both appeared on horseback from time to time. There is an exhibition about the leaders connections to horses in Pyongyang. It makes sense. Most North Koreans will never ride a horse and it seems regal, martial and dramatic,” Abrahamian said.
What’s less clear is KCNA’s reference to Kim’s possible impending decision to “strike the world with wonder.” While some analysts have suggested it refers to an upcoming rocket test, Abrahamian said the language is “sufficiently vague that we can’t say.”
“That’s the point,” he added.
North Korea recently walked away from the first working-level nuclear talks in months, blaming the United States for not proposing any creative solutions to break the impasse.
Pyongyang has since threatened to resume intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear tests. The North has conducted 11 rounds of missile tests since May. It has not carried out an ICBM or nuclear test since 2017.
Nuclear talks broke down in February, after U.S. President Donald Trump walked away from a meeting with Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam. Trump was unhappy with Kim’s offer to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facility in exchange for major sanctions relief.
Neither U.S. nor North Korean officials have commented on what was offered at the most recent nuclear talks, held in Stockholm, Sweden.
In an interview published Monday in South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo newspaper, Harry Harris, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, said Pyongyang asked the United States for “everything” before it offered to do anything.
Harris also shrugged off North Korea’s end-of-year deadline for the nuclear talks, saying the timeline has been artificially set by Pyongyang.