SEOUL, July 23 (UPI) -- The issue of North Korea human rights is being overshadowed again by more pressing issues such as denuclearization.
But that does not mean the issue should be marginalized or forgotten even as the United States presses on with engagement, U.S. analysts told UPI.
Robert King, former special ambassador on North Korea human rights, said he is looking for some fundamental changes in diplomacy with North Korea before he concludes the rights and conditions of North Koreans have improved after the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.
Trump celebrated the summit with Kim in Singapore and thanked the North Korean leader for taking the "first bold step toward a bright new future for his people."
The president also called the rights issues a "rough situation over there" and said he was ready to "write a new chapter between our nations."
"Improving relations with North Korea by itself does not do anything to change [human rights] unless there's some fundamental changes in other areas," King told UPI in a recent interview. "It's not automatic, simply improving relations does not change the difficult situation in North Korea."
King's assessment comes as skepticism grows over Trump's North Korea strategy.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday he fears North Korea is manipulating the Trump administration.
"Mr. President, North Korea is playing the same old game with you they've played with every other president," Graham said on Face the Nation.
"Restart [U.S.-South Korean] military exercises and put on the table removing our dependents from South Korea as a real, stern warning to North Korea of what happens if they play you."
King said the Singapore summit was a "major boost for Kim's legitimacy," at a time in North Korea when "questions about Kim's legitimacy...and how his family came to power" are quietly being raised among ordinary people.
"Simply a photograph, of Kim with Trump, by the flag of the United States, is a major propaganda boost for the Kim regime," King said.
But longtime human rights activist Suzanne Scholte, president of the Defense Forum Foundation, said she eventually came around to seeing the summit as part of a long-term process, after taking some time to adjust to the Trump-Kim meeting.
"Trump really tried to show the people of North Korea there is an alternative than having the rhetoric and the threats," Scholte said, adding Trump was signaling to the North Korean leader he needs to "open up and improve and that he can't do that unless he cooperates with the United States."
Scholte, a veteran observer of the Korean Peninsula, also said she's hopeful because North Korea's usual escalation of anti-U.S. propaganda between the Korean War anniversary June 25, and July 27, the anniversary of the war's Armistice, has not occurred.
And while the regime has yet to show any signs of wanting to discuss its rights record, Scholte said her group's work in getting information into North Korea has been showing signs of success.
Shortwave radio broadcasts from South Korea-based Free North Korea Radio, including a program featuring members of U.S. Congress, is changing the outlook of North Koreans who have through clandestine channels communicated to FNKR the program changed their perceptions of the United States, after being told the United States is a nation of "American bastards."
King agrees the most powerful way to cut through the propaganda is through information flows.
"It's very clear that information gets in because you can see in terms of this South Korea K-pop in the North and seeing the North mimicking some of the cultural things that they're getting," King said.
"It becomes clear in things like clothing styles."