Christmas Day Brings No ‘Gift’ From Kim Jong Un – Yet

By Patrick Goodenough | December 25, 2019 | 5:16pm EST
Kim Jong Un addresses the Central Military Commission on Dec. 22, 2019. (Photo: Uriminzokkiri)
Kim Jong Un addresses the Central Military Commission on Dec. 22, 2019. (Photo: Uriminzokkiri)

( – Under close U.S. military surveillance, Christmas Day came and went in North Korea with no sign – yet – of a “Christmas gift” provocation that the regime had hinted it was planning.

President Trump on Christmas Eve played down concerns that Kim Jong Un may test-fire a long-range ballistic missile for the first time in two years, suggesting that the presumed warning may have been misinterpreted.

“Maybe it’s a present where he sends me a beautiful vase as opposed to a missile test,” he told reporters in Florida with a small smile. “I may get a nice present from him. You don’t know. You never know.”

“We’ll find out what the surprise is and we’ll deal with it very successfully. Let’s see what happens.”

The regime has escalated hostile rhetoric over the past month, warning of a new direction if the U.S. does not make concessions in its approach towards denuclearization diplomacy by the end of 2019.

A senior foreign ministry official in Pyongyang said early this month it was “entirely up to the U.S. what Christmas gift it will select to get.”

The U.S. military flew an unusually high number of surveillance missions over the last two days, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing aviation tracking site Aircraft Spots.

Aircraft Spots said the U.S. Air Force flew a RC-135 “Rivet Joint,” an E-8C Joint STARS, a RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, and a RC-135S “Cobra Ball” – a modified version of the Boeing 707 which the U.S. Air Force has used in the past to monitor North Korean ballistic missile test-launches.

In the reclusive Stalinist state itself, official media outlets carried standard fare for North Korea – reports on greetings and “floral baskets” to the dictator from various political figures and organizations, sports stories, and insults directed at the governments on South Korea (“conservative group of traitors”) and Japan (“ignorant and stupid political dwarf.”)

The United States itself has so far been spared such treatment over the holiday, although earlier this month regime officials signaled they may revert to such earlier epithets as “dotard” to describe the American president with whom Kim has met three times.

Since last May, North Korea has conducted at least 13 launches involving short-range projectiles. Such tests violate multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions but the U.S. administration has not viewed them as breaches of Kim’s moratorium on long-range missiles including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which has held since the end of 2017.

North Korea has a long record of timing provocative behavior on important dates and anniversaries, although most tend to be auspicious days on the regime’s own calendar.

It has used such anniversaries at the day the ruling party was founded, the day the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was founded, and the birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, to conduct nuclear or missile tests, or show off new weaponry during military parades.

On the other hand, it has also tested illicit weaponry on important dates in the U.S., including July 4, 2017, when it test-fired the first ICBM theoretically able to reach parts of the U.S.; and the date of President Obama’s State of the Union address in 2013, when it carried out its third nuclear test.

The regime had carried out earlier missile tests on or near July 4, during the Bush administration in 2006 and the Obama administration in 2009.

Kim Jong Un marked new year 2017 by declaring in a speech that preparations for test-firing his first ICBM had “entered the final stage.”  (Then-President-elect Trump responded with a tweet saying, “It won’t happen!” and the actual ICBM launch came six months later, on America’s Independence Day.)

By contrast, Kim’s new year speech in 2018 included an offer to send a delegation to take part in the soon-to-begin Winter Olympics in South Korea, setting the scene for the first North-South talks in two years and, later that year, the historic Kim-Trump summit focused on denuclearization.

New year 2019 brought mixed messages from Kim – a reiteration of his commitment not to make or use nuclear weapons, but also warnings that persistent U.S. sanctions may force him to “find a new way” to defend North Korea’s sovereignty.

Four months later, another speech by Kim brought the warning that the U.S. has until the end of 2019 to make a “bold decision” to change its approach in the talks.


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