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Trump Salute to North Korean General Raises Eyebrows


U.S. President Donald Trump salutes North Korean General No Kwang Chol in Singapore in this still image taken from footage aired by North Korean state television.

U.S. President Donald Trump saluted a North Korean general on the sidelines of this week's summit in Singapore, an unusual show of respect for a military figure of a foreign adversary.

Two days after Trump's meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Pyongyang's state television broadcast a 42-minute program Thursday about the first-ever face-to-face talks between U.S. and North Korean leaders as they discussed denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The footage included a brief awkward encounter Trump had with the general, No Kwang Chol, minister of the People's Armed Forces.

As he greeted several officials in the North Korean delegation, Trump reached out to shake the hand of the three-star general, who instead saluted Trump. Trump saluted No in return, and then the men shook hands.

U.S. military officers commonly return salutes from officers of friendly foreign nations, but there is no obligation for U.S. leaders to return salutes, particularly from officers of foreign countries with which the U.S. has no diplomatic relations and has not signed a peace treaty to officially end the Korean War of the 1950s.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Trump's salute a “common courtesy” in returning the general’s salute.

But Trump's salute drew some criticism.

“I’m not trying to be gratuitous or unfair but isn’t saluting a General from an enemy military sort of a big deal?” Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat, said on Twitter.

Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, a former Defense and State Department spokesman and now a military and diplomatic analyst for CNN, called the salute "striking."

He said North Korea "can see a propaganda value here, and this is basically them showing the level of deference and respect that Trump has paid to them and to their military leaders. It was inappropriate for him to do from a protocol perspective, but now he's played right into the North's propaganda about their legitimacy on the world stage."

Kirby said Trump should have nodded his head at No's salute and then shaken the general's hand.

Kirby said that Trump, as commander-in-chief of U.S. forces, "doesn't even salute his own generals. They salute him. That's the way it works. You certainly don't do it with leaders of foreign military, and you most certainly don't do it with the leaders of foreign militaries of an adversary nation."

Criticism of Trump's salute is similar to blowback former president Barack Obama received early in his presidency for bowing to two foreign leaders, Japanese Emperor Akihito and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Trump tweeted about Obama's encounter with Abdullah, saying, "Do we still want a President who bows to Saudis and lets OPEC rip us off?"