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N Korea at crossroads

Kim sheds Mao suit as North Korea faces drought

Media play up leader's visits to food factories during heat wave

SEOUL -- Images of North Korean leaders inspecting factories are nothing new, but in recent days, Kim Jong Un has taken to wearing short sleeves during visits as his nation's fragile economy faces the risk of drought.

North Korea, like many other parts of the Northern Hemisphere, is in the midst of a brutal heat wave, with temperatures in some regions topping 40 C.

A potential food crisis, coming on top of the economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council over North Korean weapons programs, could influence Pyongyang's stance in talks with the U.S. on denuclearization. Progress on the goals laid out in Kim's June summit with U.S. President Donald Trump has appeared to stall in recent weeks.

State media are playing up Kim's leadership on food security, a pressing concern for the isolated regime.

On Wednesday, for example, the official Korean Central News Agency showed Kim visiting a fish-pickling factory in South Hwanghae Province with the ruling Workers' Party of Korea's de facto No. 2 man, Choe Ryong Hae. The agency quoted Kim telling the managers the factory was a "treasure house" for improving North Koreans' diet.

On Monday, the broadcaster showed him visiting a catfish farm and said he was working daily in the stifling heat to provide "field guidance," the North Korean term for such inspections.

Rodong Sinmun, the official party newspaper, carried an editorial calling for an all-out mobilization of resources and people to cope with the heat and drought.

The regime seemsto have mobilized significant numbers of laborers for tasks like building irrigation agricultural waterways and spreading fertilizer.

The heat wave could have political ramifications, noted Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean deputy ambassador to the U.K. who defected in 2016. "If the current hot conditions persist, agriculture could suffer a severe blow and the food situation could become very precarious come the end of the year."

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