The first North Korean footage released to the world of Trump’s historic summit with Kim Jong Un is an awkward mix-up between Trump and a North Korean officer, as The Hill reports. On Thursday, North Korean state media broadcasted a 42-minute documentary from the summit, including footage of Trump attempting to shake the officer’s hand but saluting him instead.
Trump obviously didn’t get the memo that U.S. presidents salute U.S. military service members, although they aren’t required to, but don’t generally salute foreign military members. A president returning a salute to foreign military is a sign of respect. The Washington Post notes the importance of the inclusion of this awkward moment in the documentary, which was aired across North Korea. A North Korea scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, Jean H. Lee, said:
This is a moment that will be used over and over in North Korea’s propaganda as “proof” that the American president defers to the North Korean military. It will be treated as a military victory by the North Koreans.
The documentary is almost explicitly through Kim’s perspective as it follows his journey to Singapore—Trump doesn’t appear until halfway through the documentary. The handshake took place when Trump met No Kwang Chol, the minister of the People’s Armed Forces, as well as a top military leader. Trump initially went to shake his hand but No pulled away and saluted. Trump returned the salute. Reactions to the salute and its implications have been mixed. A professor at the University of Notre Dame, Michael Desch, who has written about the civilian leadership of the U.S. military, wasn’t too concerned about the salute, although it seemed unusual to him. He said:
Bottom line, the picture makes me feel basically the same way I do when I see men in suits with no ties or wearing untucked shirts with French cuffs and jeans. It just seems vaguely improper.
However, the Wilson Center’s Lee went on to say, “It’s one more moment from a summit that essentially handed legitimacy and invaluable propaganda to Kim Jong Un and North Korea on a silver platter.” Following the awkward salute, the documentary goes on to show the rest of the summit. The Post notes that the documentary “largely presents Trump in a flattering light.”
The outcome of the agreement is still vague, despite the release of footage. Trump and Kim both signed an agreement that calls for denuclearization of North Korea for unspecified security measures from the U.S. However, the agreement has received criticism because of its lack of clarification of the word denuclearization, among other aspects. Overall, Trump spent a few days in Singapore awkwardly saluting foreign military and signing things that weren’t that productive.