The conservative South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported Monday that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Pyongyang Friday carrying two gifts for dictator Kim Jong-un: a private letter from President Donald Trump and a copy of Elton John’s Rocket Man CD.
President Trump took to calling Kim “Little Rocket Man” on Twitter and in public remarks throughout 2017, a reference to his repeatedly construction and launching of illegal medium-range missiles, threatening Japan, South Korea, and American territories in the region.
Chosun Ilbo cites “sources in Washington” for the gift details, with one source saying that Trump discussed Elton John during his meeting with Kim in Singapore.
“The ‘Rocket Man’ CD was the subject of discussion during Trump’s lunch with Kim. Kim mentioned that Trump referred to him as ‘rocket man’ when tensions ran high last year,” the source said. “Trump then asked Kim if he knew the song and Kim said no.”
Trump reportedly wrote a message for Kim on the CD as well as sending a personal letter. If the report is true, Kim will now likely be the first North Korean within the country to listen to Elton John’s music.
Possession or exposure to Western media of any kind can be punishable by public execution in North Korea, according to a variety of NGO reports and eyewitness accounts from North Korean defectors. Worshipped as a demi-god by his subjects, however, Kim is not subject to his own laws, as demonstrated most blatantly by his invitation to the country to Dennis Rodman and a team of retired NBA players in 2014.
Pompeo began his third known visit to North Korea on Thursday, intended to hash out specifics from the agreed upon points in the Singapore Declaration, which Trump and Kim jointly signed. The declaration states that Kim agreed to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” a term North Korea has used in the past to mean the removal of American assets from the region and thus has left many observers unclear as to what North Korea has promised to do. Multiple reports surfacing prior to Pompeo’s departure suggested that the Trump administration is entering these discussions with a softer approach that replaces the language initially used for Washington’s objective – complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization (CVID) – with something less concrete. Both Pompeo and spokeswoman Heather Nauert denied the reports; Nauert told reporters Tuesday that North Korean officials will face “no surprises” in speaking to Pompeo this weekend.
In addition to denuclearization, Pompeo is expected to discuss the return of American remains from the Korean War to U.S. soil, which North Korea explicitly promised to execute in the Singapore declaration.
Pompeo brings with him to North Korea U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, “seasoned nuclear negotiator, Allison Hooker, a National Security Council adviser, Randall Schriver, an assistant secretary of defense for Asia Pacific security affairs, and Andrew Kim, the head of the CIA’s Korea Mission Center,” according to Chosun Ilbo. In Pyongyang, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho greeted him at the airport, and Pompeo has since tweeted that conversations have been fruitful, without providing details.
Trump first called Kim “Little Rocket Man” on Twitter in 2017, at one point telling Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson, that he was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with North Korea. During remarks regarding tax cuts in November, Trump returned to the theme, telling the audience, “Little rocket man … he is a sick puppy.” That same month, Trump joked on Twitter that he was insulted that Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s state newspaper, had repeatedly referred to him as “old” and a “dotard.”
“Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?'” he asked. “Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!”
Following his summit with Kim, Trump told Sean Hannity of those remarks, “I hated to do it, sometimes I felt foolish doing it — but we had no choice.”