North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visits Mount Paektu. Photo: KCNA via Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits Mount Paektu in 2017. Photo: KCNA via Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s recent visit to a mountain with symbolic significance for his regime is spurring speculation that he’s mulling a major decision affecting his country’s nuclear force.

Pyongyang’s official news agency, KCNA, reported on Saturday that Kim had recently visited Mount Paektu, a peak that was the scene of the legendary origin of the Korean nation. The symbolic site has been used by North Korea’s government to legitimize the Kim family’s rule.

KCNA said in its English-language report that the visit had inspired Kim to recall the “emotion-charged days when he realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force without yielding even a moment.”

It’s unlikely that Kim climbed the entire 3,000-meter mountain — an active volcano that’s situated near North Korea’s border with China.

But some North Korea watchers said the visit could signal a “momentous decision.” One reason given is that Kim supposedly clambered up the mountain before deciding to execute his uncle Jang Sung-taek in late 2013.

“It’s unlikely that Kim went up the so-called sacred mountain for fresh air. He is likely to have considered how he will formulate external policies after having declared the regime a nuclear state,” a Seoul-based source reportedly told Dong-A Ilbo.

Dialogue with US?

What kind of decision is Kim mulling?

Some experts say it could signal a move to open dialogue with the US on winding down the crisis now that North Korea has declared itself a nuclear state after its Hwasong-15 ICBM launch on November 29.

“Resorting to further provocations could be difficult for North Korea since further nuclear tests at the Punggyeri site have become impossible due to safety concerns and there is growing talk in the US Congress of a pre-emptive strike,” a former diplomat told Chosun Ilbo.

Other analysts, however, caution that all such speculation is guesswork given the unpredictable significance of such visits by Kim in the past. They note, for instance, that Kim visited a symbolic palace after the country’s Hwasong-14 missile launch on July 4.