Trump Saluted North Korean General in 2018?

Bibligard / X
Bibligard / X


While greeting North Korean dignitaries during his summit meeting with Chairman Kim Jong Un in 2018, then-U.S. President Donald Trump returned the military salute of a North Korean general.


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A photograph allegedly showing then-U.S. President Donald Trump saluting a North Korean military leader during a 2018 summit in Singapore was reshared on social media in mid-2024 during the run-up to the November election, in which Trump is slated to face Democratic incumbent President Joe Biden.

(@N1S65 / X)

The image is genuine. It was captured from video footage aired on North Korean television on June 13, 2018, when Trump, as president, attended a summit meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The full video shows Trump being introduced to a line of North Korean dignitaries. When he reached out to shake an unidentified general's hand, the latter quickly withdrew his hand and responded instead with a military salute. Trump respectfully saluted in return.

The somewhat awkward exchange wasn't caught on film by Western media sources, but can be seen in a clip tweeted by the BBC:

The footage was part of a 42-minute propaganda video by Korean Central Television touting Kim's "supernormal political acumen" at what it termed "the meeting of the century." Trump's salute takes place just after the 23-and-a-half-minute mark (and he appears to return a salute from the same military officer again again 36 minutes into the video):

Controversy ensued, of course — just as it did when President Barack Obama bowed while greeting King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and, later, Emperor Akihito of Japan in 2009. In the first case, critics accused Obama of showing obeisance to a foreign ruler and Islam. In the second, they called his behavior "treasonous."

Critics of Trump's behavior in Singapore noted that despite the friendly tone of the summit, North Korea is still an "adversarial" nation ruled by an authoritarian regime with a long history of egregious human rights violations.

In a statement issued after the release of the North Korea video, retired U.S. Army Major General Paul D. Eaton called Trump's behavior "wholly inappropriate," saying, "It is wholly inappropriate for the commander in chief of our armed forces to salute the military of our adversary... We must talk with them, for the sake of avoiding a disastrous war. But they have not earned the salute of a president."

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said Trump's salute was disrespectful to American troops:

But even as partisan critics started hauling out stronger epithets like "traitor" and "treasonous," then-White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders made a statement defending the salute as "a common courtesy":

Similarly, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told CNN, "Returning a salute is not the same as saluting someone. You always return a salute given to you." And Trump himself dismissed the significance of the salute during an impromptu interview on the Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends," saying, "I met a general. He saluted me and I saluted him back."

As in the case of Obama's bowing to foreign royalty, there appears to be no basis in law or protocol for claiming that Trump's actions were illegal or a breach of presidential etiquette. U.S. military protocol holds that it is "customary to salute officers of friendly foreign nations when recognized as such." While saluting officers of unfriendly foreign nations isn't explicitly forbidden, we can assume it is frowned upon — although in any case these protocols don't apply to the commander-in-chief, who, despite exercising ultimate authority over the U.S. military, is by law a civilian officer with no military rank or standing.


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Sang-Hun, Choe.  "North Korea Film Glorifies Kim's World Debut, with Trump in Starring Role."   The New York Times.  14 June 2018.

Specia, Megan.  "Trump Saluted a North Korean General, Setting Off a Debate."   The New York Times.  14 June 2018.

Sykes, Michael.  "What We're Watcing: Trump Salutes North Korean General."   Axios.  14 June 2018.

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