Kim Jong Un has posed for a series of bizarre photos sitting atop a white horse in what is regarded as a propaganda stunt aimed at the United States.
The images, released by North Korea’s official media, show a bespectacled Kim wearing a long, light-brown coat and riding up snow-covered Mount Paektu on horseback.
Its location and the animal are symbols associated with the Kim family's dynastic rule.
The mountain, the highest point on the Korean Peninsula, is sacred to North Koreans, and Kim visited it before making major decisions such as the 2013 execution of his powerful uncle and his 2018 entrance into diplomacy with Seoul and Washington.
These images were released days after North Korea’s first nuclear negotiations with the US in more than seven months fell apart – and as his own deadline for US movement on the talks nears.
South Korean media quickly speculated that Kim may be considering a new strategy in his dealings with the US, because he's previously demanded Washington come up with new proposals to salvage the stalemated diplomacy by the end of December.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said: ”He, sitting on the horseback atop Mt Paektu, recollected with deep emotion the road of arduous struggle he covered for the great cause of building the most powerful country with faith and will as firm as Mt Paektu.”
Kim is not the first world leader to take to a horse for publicity pictures - Russian president Vladimir Putin has previously been pictured riding one - shirtless.
The significance of the mountain
The official biography of Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, said the second-generation leader was born on Paektu when a double rainbow filled the skies.
The Kim family has ruled North Korea for seven decades, and a strong personality cult surrounds its members.
State media have occasionally shown Kim, his sister and his father riding white horses.
The symbolism goes back to Kim Il Sung (1912-94), who, according to the North's official narrative, rode a white horse while fighting Japanese colonial rulers.
The KCNA said Kim also visited nearby construction sites in Samjiyon County and complained about US-led UN sanctions imposed on his country because of its nuclear and missile programmes.
"The situation of the country is difficult owing to the ceaseless sanctions and pressure by the hostile forces and there are many hardships and trials facing us," Kim was quoted as saying.
"But our people grew stronger through the trials and found their own way of development and learned how to always win in the face of trials.”
Kim also said "the pain the US-led anti-[North Korea] hostile forces inflicted upon the Korean people ... turned into their anger", according to the KCNA.
"No matter what persistent efforts the enemy make, we can live well with our own efforts and pave the avenue to development and prosperity in our own way.”
Breakdown of negotiations
During his second summit with President Donald Trump in Vietnam in February, Kim demanded the US lift newer and more biting sanctions in return for dismantling his main nuclear complex, a limited denuclearisation step.
Trump rejected that, and the summit collapsed without reaching any deal.
The two leaders held a brief, impromptu meeting at the Korean border in late June and agreed to resume talks.
Their negotiators met in Stockholm earlier this month for the first time since the Vietnam summit but the talks broke down again.
North Korea blamed the US for the talks' breakdown and threatened to resume nuclear and long-range missile tests.