North Korea may allow a Western hamburger chain in Pyongyang

Let’s invite Ronald McDonald.
Let’s invite Ronald McDonald.
Image: KCNA via Reuters
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Perhaps what Pyongyang needed all along was a few Big Macs.

North Korea’s tightly controlled capital isn’t exactly brimming with Western fast-food chains, and forget about the rest of the impoverished country. But as a goodwill gesture, Kim Jong-un’s regime may allow a “Western hamburger chain” in the showcase city, according to a new CIA report described by US officials to CNBC.

The mention of the fast-food chain was part of an assessment of a more serious matter: whether North Korea intends to get rid of its nuclear weapons anytime soon. It does not, the intelligence agency reportedly concluded, in line with what many experts on North Korea also believe. Still, the June 12 summit in Singapore between the US and North Korea appears, for now, to be on again, after its apparent cancellation by Trump last week.

An interest in burger outlets might count for something with Trump. While on the campaign trail in 2016, he made clear his fondness for fast food, sharing photos of himself eating McDonald’s or KFC on his private plane and suggesting he would talk to Kim and other world leaders over hamburgers if elected.

When he visited Japan last November, prime minister Shinzo Abe welcomed him with hamburgers.

After the inter-Korean summit last month, North Korean officials reportedly said: “The country welcomes investments from America. We wish to attract McDonald’s and President Trump-affiliated companies. We hope America views us as a normal country.”

North Korea is anything but normal, of course. Whatever happens in the months ahead, it will be some time before Western fast-food chains dot Pyongyang, much less broader North Korea. There’s the issue of international economic sanctions, for starters, and the country’s draconian legal system doesn’t inspire much investor confidence.

And of far more pressing concern than whether Whoppers will soon be on sale is whether the Kim regime will ever agree to scale back its nuclear capabilities in a manner that satisfies the Trump administration and the world at large.