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North Korea quiet on summit until day after Kim arrival

Eric Talmadge
Associated Press

Pyongyang, North Korea — With all the international attention focused on Singapore and the historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Pyongyang must have been buzzing with excitement Sunday, right?

Well, it might have been, if anyone there had known what was going on.

Instead, it was like the center of the storm.

With few sources of information other than the state-run media, gossip and word of mouth, most North Koreans were still largely in the dark about the momentous – and potentially life-changing – events about to take place outside of their isolated nation.

The official media had reported that the two leaders plan to meet, but offered few specifics, including where and when. On Sunday they offered no official word that Kim had left the country and arrived in Singapore, hours before Trump.

It was only Monday morning North Korea time that the Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim was in Singapore, had met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and would meet Trump on Tuesday. One dispatch said North Korea and the U.S. would exchange “wide-ranging and profound views” on establishing new relations, building a “permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism,” achieving denuclearization and “other issues of mutual concern, as required by the changed era.”

Before that, the top news in North Korea had been tremendously mundane, all things considered – a visit by Kim to a seafood restaurant in Pyongyang.

Word does get around, however, and it is quite likely that the prospect of a meeting between Kim and Trump had already been on the public’s radar. The meeting could have a major and direct impact on their daily lives, so it is only natural that people would want to know. But without a robust and independent media, accurate news is less likely and exaggeration and gossip probably abound.

By North Korean standards, Monday’s announcement came a bit earlier than usual. In other cases it has waited until events were over to put out its first reports. News that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited North Korea was front page news with a big photo of him shaking Kim’s hand the following day in the ruling party newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun.

State media announcing the meeting a day before it happens is one more sign that nothing about this summit is routine.