North Korean leader Kim Jong Un mounted a white horse in an evocative propaganda stunt as his own deadline for US movement on nuclear talks is nearing.
The images in his country’s official media showed a bespectacled Mr Kim, wearing a long, light-brown coat and riding up snow-covered Mount Paektu on horseback.
The location and the animal are symbols associated with the Kim family’s dynastic rule.
The highest point on the Korean Peninsula is sacred to North Koreans, and Mr Kim has visited it before making major decisions such as the 2013 execution of his powerful uncle and his 2018 entrance into diplomacy with Seoul and Washington.
The images and Mr Kim’s comments were released days after his country’s first nuclear negotiations with the US in more than seven months fell apart.
South Korean media quickly speculated Kim may be considering a new strategy in his dealings with the US because he’s previously demanded Washington come up with new proposals to salvage the stalemated diplomacy by the end of December.
“He, sitting on the horseback atop Mt Paektu, recollected with deep emotion the road of arduous struggle he covered for the great cause of building the most powerful country with faith and will as firm as Mt Paektu,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.
North Korean documents say Kim’s grandfather and national founder Kim Il Sung had an anti-Japan guerrilla base on Paektu’s slopes during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
The official biography of Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, said the second-generation leader was born on Paektu when a double rainbow filled the skies.
The white horse is also a propaganda symbol for the Kim family that has ruled North Korea for seven decades with a strong personality cult surrounding family members.
State media have occasionally shown Mr Kim, his sister and his father riding white horses.
The symbolism goes back to Kim Il Sung, who according to the North’s official narrative, rode a white horse while fighting Japanese colonial rulers.
KCNA said Mr Kim also visited nearby construction sites in Samjiyon County and complained about US-led U.N. sanctions imposed on his country because of its nuclear and missile programmes.
“The situation of the country is difficult owing to the ceaseless sanctions and pressure by the hostile forces and there are many hardships and trials facing us,” Mr Kim was quoted as saying.
“But our people grew stronger through the trials and found their own way of development and learned how to always win in the face of trials.”
Mr Kim also said “the pain the US-led anti-(North Korea) hostile forces inflicted upon the Korean people … turned into their anger”, according to KCNA.
“No matter what persistent efforts the enemy make, we can live well with our own efforts and pave the avenue to development and prosperity in our own way.”
North Korea has been slapped with a total of 11 rounds of sanctions since 2006.
The sanctions have been toughened since 2016 when Mr Kim began conducting a series of high-profile nuclear and missile tests, and they include a full ban on key exports such as coal, textiles and seafood and a significant curtailing of oil imports.
During his second summit with President Donald Trump in Vietnam in February, Mr Kim demanded the United States lift the newer and more biting sanctions in return for dismantling his main nuclear complex, a limited denuclearisation step.
Mr Trump rejected that, and the summit collapsed without reaching any deal.
The two leaders held a brief, impromptu meeting at the Korean border in late June and agreed to resume talks.
Their negotiators met in Stockholm earlier this month for the first time since the Vietnam summit but the talks broke down again.
North Korea blamed the US for the talks’ breakdown and threatened to resume nuclear and long-range missile tests.