White House defends Trump's salute of North Korean general: 'It’s a common courtesy'

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday defended President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE’s decision to salute a North Korean military officer, calling it “common courtesy.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“It’s a common courtesy when a military official from another government salutes that you return that,” she said.

North Korea's KCTV news channel aired footage from Trump's recent summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The video shows Trump shaking hands with Kim and another North Korean official. 

The president then reaches out to shake the hand of a North Korean officer standing in uniform next to Kim. The officer, apparently confused, salutes Trump instead, prompting the president to salute back.

Reports identified the North Korean military officer as No Kwang Chol, a three-star general.

CNN reported that Trump was briefed on U.S. protocol, which is to not salute military officers from other countries.

Democrats have criticized the gesture as a show of respect for an authoritarian regime. That criticism has compounded scrutiny the president has received for his repeated praise of Kim earlier his week. Trump called the North Korean leader "very talented," a "great negotiator" and someone who "loves his people." 

Social media users were quick to note that Trump had previously chided former President Obama for bowing to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.

"The Amateur! First @BarackObama was caught bowing to the Saudi King but now the President of Mexico!" Trump tweeted in 2012.

Trump returned to Washington on Wednesday after meeting with Kim in Singapore. The two signed a document that gave Kim unspecified security assurances in exchange for a pledge to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.