Kim warns North Korea could consider change of tack

Minnie Murray
January 1, 2019

Kim also during his New Year's speech on Tuesday 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.

It was an occasion the communist leader says he would be keen to repeat: "I am ready to meet with the United States president again at any time and will make efforts to surely create outcomes welcomed by the worldwide community", Kim said.

North Korea might be "compelled to explore a new path" to defend its sovereignty if the United States "seeks to force something upon us unilaterally. and remains unchanged in its sanctions and pressure", Kim said in his nationally televised address.

In this year's 30-minute speech, Kim spent more than 20 minutes highlighting his new focus on the economy.

But Kim called on Washington to take "corresponding" and "trustworthy" measures to reciprocate steps North Korea has already taken.

Pyongyang has demanded Washington lift sanctions and declare an official end to the 1950-53 Korean War in response to its unilateral steps toward denuclearization - including a moratorium on atomic tests, longer-range missile launches and closure of key sites.

In December, Trump said that he hopes to meet Kim as soon as even this month or February, describing their relationship as "good" and even suggesting he might invite Kim to the White House.

Last year's rapprochement came after a turbulent 2017 marked by North Korea testing missiles that could reach the USA mainland and an escalation in rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington with both sides trading insults and threats of nuclear destruction.

North Korea has not responded to Washington's calls for senior working-level talks to follow up on the June 12 summit, apparently preferring to engage Trump rather than other United States officials in its negotiations. North Korea seems determined in 2019 to receive some sort of sanctions relief - or what Kim referred to as "corresponding measures" - as part of any bargain with the Trump Administration."Duyeon Kim, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security: "As expected, he didn't rock the boat, clearly being mindful of the diplomatic process with Washington and didn't brag about his nuclear might".

The two leaders traded personal insults - Trump mocked Kim as "Little Rocket Man", who in turn called him a "mentally deranged United States dotard" - and threats of war as fears of conflict rose.

"I think it is a message to Trump that he is willing to give up his nuclear weapons program as he promised at the Singapore summit and hold another summit with Trump to break the impasse in the denuclearization talks", said Park Won-gon, a professor at Handong Global University.

That resulted in a dramatic detente past year, including three summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and the historic meeting with Trump in June.

Kim also called for South Korea to stop joint military exercises with "outside forces" involving strategic assets, calling such drills a "source of tension".

The hardening stalemate has fuelled doubts on whether Kim will ever voluntarily relinquish the nuclear weapons and missiles he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival.

Kim and Trump vowed to work towards denuclearisation and build a "lasting and stable" peace regime at their landmark summit in Singapore in June, but both sides have since been struggling to make progress.

Pyongyang conducted its latest missile launch in November a year ago.

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