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Trump-Kim summit

‘I think he loved it’: Donald Trump says Kim Jong-un was impressed by his odd, Hollywood-style propaganda video

‘It is striking that the video contains open threats that failure to make a deal will lead directly to war and conflict,’ said one observer of the video

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 2:26am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 6:28am

When US President Donald Trump sat down to make the case for peace to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un on Tuesday, he rolled out what amounted to a film trailer starring the two leaders.

Trump said he urged Kim and other North Korean officials to watch a four-minute video produced before the Singapore summit, and that they huddled around an iPad to watch the video, which appeared to draw more from the hype of Hollywood than the careful language of diplomacy.

“I think he loved it,” Trump said, referring to Kim, adding that he gave the North Koreans their own copy.

The video mixes both Hollywood and propaganda film tropes that play over a pulsing orchestral score.

It appears to be composed almost entirely of generic stock footage and old news clips, including images of Trump and Kim smiling. There is an English language version and one in Korean, the narrator having a South Korean accent.

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At one point, it features a montage with babies and car factories, suggesting what a more prosperous future for North Korea could look like if it agreed to give up its nuclear arsenal. To illustrate the point, ballistic missiles are shown in reverse motion, pulling back into their launch silos.

“The past doesn’t have to be the future,” a narrator says as the video showed the demilitarised zone that has separated North and South Korea since the end of the Korean war in 1953.

Then later, the narrator says, “a new world can begin today,” as an animated sequence suggests what the impoverished North Korea could look like from space if it was as brightly lit up at night as the far more prosperous South Korea.

Kim’s late father and predecessor, Kim Jong-il, was a Hollywood film buff, with a special affection for director Steven Spielberg and actress Elizabeth Taylor and an extensive video library to match, according to defectors and intelligence agencies.

White House officials also arranged for the video to be played for reporters at Trump’s post-summit news conference.

The video was produced by the US government to help persuade Kim to make a deal, a White House official said. “An audience of one,” the official said.

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Analysts in Washington described the video as more characteristic of a property developer making a hard sell than a world leader seeking to thread the diplomatic needle. One observer dismissed it as “a word salad topped with gratuitous appeasement of a monstrous regime”.

Jon Wolfsthal, a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank: “This is exactly the kind of video a real estate developer shows to prospective clients. It is clear the president is using what he knows as he pursues his agenda. That seems natural.”

“It is striking that the video contains open threats that failure to make a deal will lead directly to war and conflict,” he said.

“The overtones are very ominous. I am sceptical this has had the desired effect, but the summit has kicked the disarmament can down the road, so we will have to wait and see.”

Michael Cornfield, a political scientist at George Washington University in Washington, said: “Most world leaders would be appalled by such a cheesy appeal to choose the world of colour over the world of black and white. Or they might be secretly pleased because they would figure anyone negotiating on such primitive terms would be easy to roll.

“But Kim is the man who freaked out over his mock assassination in the feature film The Interview back in 2014. He had his cyber-team hack Sony Pictures and his threats of terrorism caused theatres to cancel screenings. So perhaps this is a way to forge a bond.”

The credit on the video said it was produced by Destiny Pictures, which disrupted the morning of Mark Castaldo, who owns a Los Angeles-based production company with the same name, albeit with a different logo than the one in the video.

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“We had nothing to do with that film,” Castaldo said in a telephone interview, adding he had awoken to a deluge of calls and emails from journalists around the world. “Propaganda, all that stuff, that is not something we’d get involved in.”

Before he ran for president in the 2016 election, Trump was a businessman with a long career in entertainment, presenting The Apprentice reality TV show for several years.

Despite 10 years as a casino worker in Las Vegas and Atlantic City before switching to film, Castaldo said he had never met Trump or worked in a Trump casino.

At times, the video appeared to address Kim directly, suggesting he could make a choice that would open North Korea to new investment and step into a starring role in a moment in history with Trump.

“Featuring President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un, in a meeting to remake history, to shine in the sun,” the narrator says. “One moment. One choice. What if?”

Trump and Kim reached a broad agreement that North Korea would move toward denuclearising the Korean peninsula, while the United States committed to providing security guarantees and suspending military exercises with long-time ally South Korea.

“It is striking that the video contains open threats that failure to make a deal will lead directly to war and conflict,” he said. “The overtones are very ominous. I am sceptical this has had the desired effect, but the summit has kicked the disarmament can down the road, so we will have to wait and see.”

Michael Cornfield, a political scientist at George Washington University in Washington, said: “Most world leaders would be appalled by such a cheesy appeal to choose the world of colour over the world of black and white. Or they might be secretly pleased because they would figure anyone negotiating on such primitive terms would be easy to roll.

“But Kim is the man who freaked out over his mock assassination in the feature film The Interview back in 2014. He had his cyber-team hack Sony Pictures and his threats of terrorism caused theatres to cancel screenings. So perhaps this is a way to forge a bond.”

Additional reporting by The Guardian