North Korean leader's sister rules out talks with Trump, seeks July 4th DVDs

A February 2019 photo shows Trump (left) and Kim meeting in Hanoi.
A February 2019 photo shows Trump (left) and Kim meeting in Hanoi.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un dismissed the idea of a meeting with President Donald Trump this year, but did so with a warm tone that included an unusual mention of DVDs showing celebrations of the US July 4th holiday.

Kim Yo Jong conveyed the best wishes of her brother to Trump but said the time wasn’t right to meet, the official Korean Central News Agency reported on Friday (July 10).

Her comments came as Trump’s point man for relations with Pyongyang, Stephen Biegun, was on the last day of his trip this week to South Korea and Japan, trying to revive sputtering nuclear negotiations that have made little progress since Kim Jong Un and Trump first met two years ago.

“Given the differences in opinion between the two countries, it wouldn’t be beneficial or necessary for the two sides to meet unless there is a decisive change in the U.S. stance toward North Korea.” Kim Yo Jong said, according KCNA.

She also said she had sought – and received – permission from her brother to obtain DVDs featuring US Independence Day festivities, KCNA reported.

She said she had watched some of the July 4th “celebratory events” through TV news reports, adding: “I’m trying to personally obtain DVDs on US Independence Day events from now on, and I’ve also gotten approval from the Chairman for that.”

Foreign television programming has made its way to North Korea for years, with defectors saying South Korean romance dramas are among the most sought after shows. The content is often smuggled into the reclusive state and distributed on thumb drives to help hide the material. Those caught “viewing, reading or listening to content provided by a media outlet based outside the country” can be sent to political prisons, according to a 2020 report from Reporters Without Borders.

North Korea took a harsher tone toward the US last month when Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon accused the Trump administration of breaking promises it made at the first historic summit two years ago, saying it had turned dreams for peace into “a dark nightmare” and dashed hopes for denuclearisation.

North Korea has blasted the Trump administration for not easing up on sanctions choking its paltry economy, lambasting officials like Secretary of State Michael Pompeo for using what Pyongyang sees as “gangster-liked behavior.” Still, it has mostly lauded its ties with Trump since the US leader held his first summit with Kim Jong Un.

‘Christmas gift’

Kim Yo Jong said it was thanks to good personal relations between her brother and Trump that North Korea didn’t carry out its threat to deliver its “Christmas gift” to the US. The threat, made at the end of last year, raised speculation that North Korea might rattle tensions with a test of a long-range missile or nuclear device after it gave Trump a year-end deadline to ease up on sanctions.

The US hasn’t requested a meeting with North Korea, Biegun said during a stop in Seoul on Wednesday, reaffirming the Trump administration’s commitment to eliminating nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula.

His visit came after North Korea in June blew up a US$15 million (S$21 million) joint liaison office that South Korea built north of the border two years ago as a symbol of President Moon Jae-in’s policy of reconciliation.

Kim Yo Jong has been the face of the recent pressure campaign against South Korea that has included rhetorical barbs at Moon, who has made rapprochement with Pyongyang a major part of his political career. The US president, meanwhile, has swung from threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea during his first year in office to boasting of falling “in love” with Kim and repeatedly echoing the regime’s criticism of American military activities on the peninsula.

Kim Yo Jong had kind words for Trump in her message.

“North Korea has no intention of harming the US,” she said, “and Kim Jong Un has made this clear to Trump.”