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In North Korea, Parade Features No Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles


We have an opportunity now to take a rare look inside one of the world's most isolated countries. Our colleague Mary Louise Kelly is in Pyongyang beginning a six-day reporting trip inside North Korea. It's the first time NPR has had a team inside the so-called hermit kingdom since 2010. She tells us North Korea has gone through a lot of changes, even in the last three months, since the Singapore summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: I think the evolution is in tone, and it's in rhetoric. There is a much - a markedly less aggressive, less anti-American tone, at least in terms of the public messaging. And I should mention that this is my first trip to North Korea. We have been allowed in to cover the 70th anniversary celebrations, which are still underway. There was a huge military parade yesterday, the actual anniversary. We are back to Kim Il Sung Square today for a torch ceremony.

But you know, you - anybody - we can go online, look at photos - pretty recent photos of anti-American propaganda on the streets here, big billboards showing the White House with gun sights trained on it or the big fist crushing an American missile. You know, people who have traveled here say you used to see that regularly. We have seen almost nothing. It's gone.

MARTIN: Why? I mean, do you have any idea where it's gone?

KELLY: Well, it's been taken down. We took a taxi today to a place called Juche Tower. It kind of loosely translates as Self-reliance Tower. It's a famous landmark here in Pyongyang. And in the gift shop at the bottom, they told us that they sold anti-American propaganda until pretty recently. But now Kim Jong Un has decreed a new strategy, and so they're following it.

MARTIN: So what's replaced it, the anti-U.S. propaganda? What are you seeing instead?

KELLY: So let me give you an example. Last night, we were driven to the Mass Games here in Pyongyang. This is - if you think, like, Olympics Opening Ceremony and Super Bowl halftime show rolled into one, it's - you get an idea of what a scene it was. Let me play you just a little taste of what that sounded like here last night.


KELLY: OK. So Rachel, what is happening there, meanwhile, is this giant projection of video of the summit - you'll remember from this past April - between Kim Jong Un and the leader of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, where they are clasping hands and embracing. And the whole stadium erupts in applause. Now, partly, every time an image of Kim Jong Un comes onto a screen here, people erupt into applause. But still, the idea that they would be applauding video showing the leader of South Korea, a country still at war with North Korea technically, is just a very different tone than we've seen in past Mass Games, which have had a more aggressive, more militaristic flavor to them.

MARTIN: So we have talked, on the show, about Kim Jong Un's desire to pivot from intensely focusing on the nuclear program to intensely focusing on economic development. Is that related?

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, that's very much the theory among North Korea watchers we've spoken with here. We are on a very tightly controlled media tour. We are accompanied everywhere by government guides. We see what they want us to see. The upside of that is it becomes clear real fast what the message they're trying to get across is. They took us to a school where every classroom they let us peek into, students were on laptops doing artificial intelligence and virtual reality. The message being, it's science. It's tech. It's the economy. That's the priority now - and antagonizing the U.S., at least for now, not so much.

MARTIN: Mary Louise Kelly, host of All Things Considered, reporting on the ground in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Mary Louise, thanks. We'll look forward to more of your reporting.

KELLY: You're welcome, Rachel. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.