By Jill Dougherty, reporting from Aspen, Colorado
Former Ambassador Christopher Hill doesn't always keep his eye on wedding announcements, but the former U.S Ambassador to South Korea and former head of the U.S. delegation to the Six Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear program is closely following the news that the young North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, is married.
I spoke with Hill as he took a break between sessions at the Aspen Security Forum. After years of dealing with North Korea, Hill often uses words like "weird," "odd," and even "hideous." But in trying to understand Pyonyang, he says, the U.S. should be coldly objective.
"As hideous as that system looks to us," Hill says, "we need to keep our analytical tools at hand and not just react to the situation emotionally but try to think through and think where this is taking them."
What's particularly interesting about the marriage news, Hill says, is that it was specially announced to the North Korean people.
"They know who this woman is," Hill says, "and this is in contrast to his dad, Kim Jong Il, who usually had this kind of mysterious and oddball life pattern. So what they're clearly trying to do is show this guy as sort of a normal North Korean, enjoying things, going to amusement parks."
"The question will be: does this really have any political, much less economic significance in a country where half the people are truly facing food shortages?," Hill observed.
Even if it doesn't ultimately amount to much Hill, now dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, says "it could create a kind of change in expectations," among the North Korean people.
"One of the things one notices in North Korea," he explains, "is that no one has any expectation that anything is going to get any better. They're more concerned about putting food on the table. So if they start with that possibility of expectations then who knows what could possibly happen as a result of this wedding announcement?"
Christopher Hill also is watching the move against the army chief of staff, Ri Yong Ho, who was dismissed from his post in July.
"What that means is very interesting," Hill says. "While we think of it as a kind of weird Communist system, its actually an odd, military-run Communist system so there cold be some changes in how the Communist party is getting along with the military. But so far, I would really put in last place the idea that we're on the way to some kind of economic reforms which is something the Chinese would like us to believe, but personally I would like to see more evidence for that."