Some defended the salute, pointing out that the general had initiated it and saying President Donald Trump was being polite.
Footage of President Donald Trump saluting a top North Korean general during this week’s meeting with the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, set off debate Thursday over military and diplomatic protocol.
The scene was part of a 42-minute documentary that aired on North Korea’s state television two days after the two leaders met in Singapore.
While greeting North Korean dignitaries after his initial handshake with Kim, Trump proceeded down the line shaking hands, the video shows. When Trump offered his hand to Gen. No Kwang Chol, who was recently promoted to defense chief, the general saluted instead.
Trump quickly raised his own hand and saluted back.
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Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, a retired U.S. Army general, criticized the gesture in a statement. “It is wholly inappropriate for the commander-in-chief of our armed forces to salute the military of our adversary, especially one which is responsible for a regime of terror, murder and unspeakable horror against its own people,” Eaton said.
Others pointed out that with North and South Korea still technically at war (a formal peace treaty was never signed), it was inappropriate for Trump to salute the general of an adversary.
“I have never seen an American president salute an officer of another military, let alone a military that acts as a brutal enforcer of human slavery and awful prison camps in a gulag across its nation,” said James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral who served as the top NATO commander. “It was a mistake.”
Some defended the salute, pointing out that No had initiated it and saying Trump was being polite. Presidential spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “It’s a common courtesy when a military official from another government salutes, that you return that.”
The documentary aired on the state-run KCTV and was presented by North Korean television mainstay Ri Chun Hee. Much of the program, which followed Kim throughout his Singapore trip, was overlaid with soaring patriotic music and breathless narration.
The protocol for how U.S. presidents should meet foreign leaders is murky. During the 2012 presidential campaign, Trump went after President Barack Obama for bowing to the Saudi king, tweeting: “@BarackObama bowed to the Saudi King in public — yet the Dems are questioning @MittRomney’s diplomatic skills.”
Obama also took some grief in 2014 for saluting with a coffee cup in his hand as he stepped off Marine One in New York. The “latte salute” had its own hashtag on Twitter.