Newsday, Kim Jong-un warns of 'change in direction'

Jan 03, 2019, 01:05
Newsday, Kim Jong-un warns of 'change in direction'

KIM Jong Un used his New Year's address to issue a pointed warning to US President Donald Trump, saying that North Korea would take a "new path" in nuclear talks if the US did not relax economic sanctions.

In his New Year speech Kim called for the sanctions to be eased, saying that the North had declared "we would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them", and urged the U.S. to take "corresponding practical actions".

Kim also said the United States should continue to halt its joint military exercises with ally South Korea and not deploy strategic military assets to the South.

As the USA is unlikely to back down, analysts said it is up to South Korean President Moon Jae-in - who is due to welcome Mr Kim to Seoul early this year for their fourth summit - to mediate.

After racing towards the goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States in 2017, Kim used last year's New Year speech to warn that "a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office" and order mass production of nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles.

Kim also said he is willing to reopen the now shuttered inter-Korean industrial park in the North's border city of Kaesong and resume a suspended tour program to Mount Kumgang on the North's east coast "without any preconditions".

President Donald Trump has been tweeting a lot this New Year's Day including one message that included a bit of flattery aimed at the North Korean dictator.

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Speech: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un poses for photos in Pyongyang yesterday ahead of his TV address.

He also said the United States and South Korea should no longer carry out joint military exercises - which have been largely halted since the Singapore meeting - calling such drills "a source of tension".

The North is demanding relief from the multiple sanctions imposed on it over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and has condemned U.S. insistence on its nuclear disarmament as "gangster-like".

Kim's speech "expressed his frustration with the lack of progress in negotiations so far", former South Korean vice minister of unification Kim Hyung-seok said. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been trying to arrange a second meeting.

Trump and Kim held an historic summit in Singapore in June, at which Kim said he was committed to denuclearising the Korean Peninsula.

However, if the USA did not "keep its promise made in front of the whole world" and instead "insists on sanctions and pressures" on North Korea, "we may be left with no choice but to consider a new way to safeguard our sovereignty and interests".

Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since then, and Mr Kim's New Year address has cast further doubt on whether he is willing to give up the weapons after all.

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Seoul and Pyongyang have pursued several reconciliation initiatives in recent months, including projects to upgrade the North's outdated rail infrastructure and reconnect it with the South.

That could mean working with China, South Korea and others in pressing Washington, professor Kim said. "If the United States responds to our pre-emptive and autonomous efforts with credible measures and corresponding actions, the relationship between the two countries will accelerate for the better".

The North has also bristled at US demands to provide a detailed account of nuclear and missile facilities that would be inspected and dismantled under a potential deal. "He's exuding confidence that his country isn't hung up over the USA, that they can still prosper without Washington".

Kim's reference to pledges not to make nuclear weapons could indicate a first moratorium on such weapons production, although it was not clear if this was conditional.

Although he warned he could explore a "new path", Kim's restrained tone indicates his willingness to maintain the momentum for dialogue with the United States, experts say.

Those letters could carry more specific and directed messages to Moon and Trump than the speech, which is primarily intended for a domestic audience, said Ahn Chan-il, a high-ranking defector who now heads the World Institute for North Korea Studies in Seoul.

Publicly-released satellite footage confirmed this intelligence in August and September, and as a result, sanctions against North Korea remain in place.

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North Korea did not conduct any weapons tests in 2018.

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