Author Bob Woodward’s new book Rage, an examination of President Donald Trump’s first term due to be released on September 15, reportedly includes excerpts from the letters Trump exchanged with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. One of the letters from Kim is said to include an explicit account of the execution of his uncle Jang Song-thaek in 2013.
Jang, who was arguably the most powerful official in the regime at his peak, was purged and executed along with several of his top aides when Kim decided to consolidate power. Jang was officially sentenced to death for corruption, drug abuse, and treason.
Various stories have circulated over the years about how and why Jang was killed. According to one theory, Kim had Jang killed because his uncle was too close to China, and might even have been planning to overthrow him in favor of a North Korean leader more agreeable to Beijing.
An early account of Jang’s execution said that he was stripped naked and fed to a large pack of starving dogs, but that story turned out to be based on a satirical post on Chinese social media. Later it was said that Jang was blown to pieces with an anti-aircraft gun, or that he died of a heart attack after watching his aides executed in that gruesome manner. Other accounts say he was executed by an ordinary firing squad.
The passage in Woodward’s book that mentions Jang Song-thaek apparently begins with Trump saying that Kim “tells me everything” thanks to the personal friendship they developed.
“He killed his uncle and he put the body right in the steps. And the head was cut, sitting on the chest,” Trump told Woodward according to excerpts seen by AFP, which noted this marks the first time a U.S. official has said on the record that Jang was decapitated.
AFP assumed the “steps” Trump referred to were the steps of a North Korean building occupied by senior government officials.
Woodward, and most media organizations reporting on his book excerpts, appears shocked by the level of bonhomie between Trump and the monstrous North Korean leader in their correspondence, although based on the passages quoted by CNN this week, Trump’s end of the conversation does not look much different than the usual diplomatic glad-handing, and Kim’s responses are roughly as weird as everything else Kim Jong-un says in public:
In his letters to Trump, Kim addresses him as “Your Excellency” and punctuates them with flowery prose.
“Even now I cannot forget that moment of history when I firmly held Your Excellency’s hand at the beautiful and sacred location as the whole world watched with great interest and hope to relive the honor of that day,” Kim wrote to Trump on December 25, 2018, following their first meeting in Singapore.
Another meeting “between myself and Your Excellency,” Kim added, would be “reminiscent of a scene from a fantasy film.”
Trump’s responses are more straightforward but nevertheless filled with flattery.
Trump wrote back to Kim on December 28, “Like you, I have no doubt that a great result will be accomplished between our two countries, and that the only two leaders who can do it are you and me.”
According to AFP’s description of Rage, Trump developed a positive relationship with Kim through their letters, but Trump played things tougher than Kim evidently expected during their nuclear summit in Hanoi last year:
Pyongyang officials said they had offered to “dismantle all the nuclear production facilities in the Yongbyon area”, but analysts say the North has several other nuclear sites.
According to the book Trump demanded five sites be given up.
“Listen, one doesn’t help and two doesn’t help and three doesn’t help and four doesn’t help. Five does help,” he said.
Yongbyon was the North’s biggest site, Kim countered according to excerpts from the book seen by AFP. “It’s also your oldest,” Trump told the author he retorted.
Kim, though, would not offer further concessions, and Trump told him: “You’re not ready to make a deal.”
“I’ve got to leave,” he added, to Kim’s shock. “I am really very offended.”
Kim later wrote to Trump that he was “very clearly offended” when the U.S. and South Korea held joint military exercises ahead of a meeting on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) a few weeks after the Hanoi summit. This appears to have marked the end of the friendly correspondence between the two, although Trump insists they still “get along.”
According to Woodward’s book, Trump and Kim exchanged a total of 27 letters. President Trump previously made two of them public, including an early example of Kim referring to Trump as “Your Excellency.”