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Amid heatwave, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un steps out in summer clothes, straw hat

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the Kumsanpho Fish Pickling Factory in North Korea, according to this image released by the North's official news agency on Aug. 8, 2018.

KOREAN CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY

By KIM HJELMGAARD | USA Today | Published: August 10, 2018

(Tribune News Service) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ditched his trademark Mao-style suit for gray slacks, a white T-shirt-like undershirt and a wide-brimmed straw hat -- a rare sartorial move into casual dress that could reflect the record-high temperatures that have descended on parts of Asia since July, as well as Kim's growing confidence and optimism following his agreement with President Donald Trump to pursue denuclearization for the Korean Peninsula.

North Korean state media released new photographs this week of Kim in his summery clothes as he inspected a fish-pickling factory alongside his wife Ri Sol-ju. In the photos, Kim is accompanied by an entourage of officials in full, tightly buttoned up military uniforms while North Korea's first lady is seen carrying her husband's jacket on her arm. Temperatures in North Korea have been stuck above 100 degrees for weeks.

"Kim is trying to make himself a more familiar and accessible leader to the North Korean people," Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University and an authority on the North Korean leadership, told British newspaper The Telegraph.

"A few months ago, he was touring military sites in formal clothing to demonstrate his power and dignity; things have changed now because he has promised to build the nation's economy and improve the people's standards of living."

Still, North Korea had harsh words for the Trump administration this week for not immediately lifting sanctions after the two countries agreed in June to work toward denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. North Korea's foreign ministry said Pyongyang had made various goodwill gestures since the accord was made during a summit in Singapore, but Washington was still following an "outdated acting script" by insisting no sanctions be eased until Pyongyang fully disarms its nuclear arsenal. North Korea said it did not commit to unilaterally giving up its nuclear weapons.

Among the goodwill gestures the foreign ministry may have been referring to: Last week, North Korea returned the possible remains of some U.S. soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War. Many presumed-fallen U.S. soldiers from that conflict are still unaccounted for. North Korea handed over 55 boxes with the remains of U.S. soldiers. It is likely to take months or even years to determine their identities.

However, North Korea has made few tangible moves to dismantle its atomic weapons program since the June 12 summit with Trump, according to 38 North and other North Korea-related watchdogs, think tanks, analysts, and military and policy experts.

Kim's visit to the Kumsanpho fish-pickling factory comes amid a flurry of inspections he has made over the summer to manufacturing plants and farms ahead of the regime's expected celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of its founding on September 9.    

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