Security expert: Kim Jong Un looking to boost his image

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 12) — North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un broke new ground by meeting U.S. President Donald Trump, but he might still have his own interests at heart, a military historian said.

Moments before the summit, Jose Custodio told CNN Philippines' The Source on Tuesday that Kim was probably after an image boost.

"Kim might look at this as a way to boost his domestic image in North Korea... In these situations, a totalitarian leader has to reinforce his image as a man who is respected around the world," Custodio said.

He said the meeting with Trump came after another meeting Kim had with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which could show that "two powers are now talking with [Kim]."

"For him, it's his grip on power. Economic development, meetings with world leaders, boost that image of his," said Custodio.

Kim is also likely to push for relaxed sanctions for his country, he added, which were imposed after continuous testing of missiles with nuclear capability.

The historical summit came after another landmark summit between Kim and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in in April, where both leaders vowed to end the war between them.

The young dictator, who last year had a sharp back-and-forth with Trump that fueled fears of a possible nuclear confrontation, managed to turn around his image in a matter of months. Kim seemed warm during his meeting with Moon, even cracking jokes and giving him a hug. He was even given a rock star welcome in Singapore, where onlookers cheered him on ahead of his meet with Trump.

However, Custodio was wary given Kim's history of human rights violations - an issue which he noted the United States seemed to have "dropped" under Trump.

"[Kim] may look like a nice round guy who's very huggable, but... the moment you turn your back, he's going to shoot you," he said.

Custodio also responded to President Rodrigo Duterte's comments about Kim last April. The President said Kim is an "amiable, jolly, good fellow, and very accommodating."

"Alam mo si, naging idol ko tuloy siya, si Kim Jong Un (He became my idol). For all of the time, he was pictured to be the bad boy of the community," Duterte said. "But with one master stroke, he is now the hero of everybody."

Custodio disagreed.

"I'm not exactly going to say that... Kim Jong Un is actually that type of jolly good fellow, because [he] actually killed members of his own family," he said. "He's a jolly good fellow and a bloodthirsty fellow at the same time."

In 2013, Kim was reported to have his uncle Jang Song Thaek executed for allegedly trying to overthrow the regime. Kim's exiled half-brother Kim Jong Nam was mysteriously assassinated in Malaysia last year.

The Institute for National Security Strategy, a South Korean think tank, estimated in 2016 that Kim had ordered about 340 deaths since he rose to power in 2011.

However, the Trump-Kim summit still marks "the start for more comprehensive talks," and is one step "toward better relations," Custodio said.

"Two things can actually happen here: one is the formal end of the Korean War... and the second thing also is the nuclear disarmament of North Korea," he said. "But these are things that will still be worked for."