Kim North Korean leader Kim Jong Un renewed his “resolute” commitment to denuclearization Tuesday and said he was ready to meet President Donald Trump for a second time, but he warned that he might have to seek a “new path” if the United States maintains sanctions and demands unilateral concessions.
In a closely watched, nationally televised annual New Year’s Day speech, Kim balanced a willingness to talk with a reminder that North Korea has its own demands if the denuclearization talks are to succeed. He also warned that the United States should not misjudge North Korea’s “patience.”
Kim called his June summit meeting with Trump “instructive” and said they had shared “constructive opinions” on mutual concerns and “speedy solutions to the tangled issues” they faced.
“I am ready to sit face to face with the U.S. president again anytime in the future, and will strive to produce an outcome welcomed by the international community,” he said.
“However, if the U.S. does not keep the promises it made in front of the world, misjudge the patience of our people, force a unilateral demand on us, and firmly continue with sanctions and pressures on our republic, we cannot but seek new ways to protect our autonomy and interests and establish peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
On the other hand, Kim reminded his audience that he and Trump had agreed to proceed toward the “complete denuclearization” of the peninsula, and he said that remained the “unchangeable stance” of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.
“We have announced that we will not produce, test nor proliferate any more nuclear weapons, and have taken practical measures accordingly,” he 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.”
Kim delivered the speech in a more relaxed setting than in previous years, sitting in a plush leather armchair in a book-lined study, with large paintings of his father and grandfather on the wall behind him.
The speech, primarily aimed at a domestic audience, was mostly concentrated on the economy, stressing the need for self-reliance, technological progress and scientific research while upholding socialist values. Though the economy has liberalized in recent years, there was no hint of that in Tuesday’s address.
Kim urged North Korea to alleviate power shortages by raising electricity production. He also urged development in the munitions industry, to bring the country’s defense capabilities “up to the level of developed countries.”
He spoke warmly of his three 2018 meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and of the rapprochement between the two nations, but he said that progress should be consolidated by ending joint military exercises with the United States. He also called for a halt to the deployment of “strategic assets” on the Korean Peninsula, an apparent reference to U.S. bombers and submarines capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
“Now that the North and the South have promised to seek the path of peace and prosperity, joint military exercises with foreign forces that give rise to tension on the Korean Peninsula should not be allowed anymore, and arms including strategic assets should not be brought in from outside anymore,” he said.
Kim said he wanted to restart a joint economic zone in Kaesong and a joint tourism project at Mount Kumgang in the North “without preconditions.” However, neither step will be possible unless sanctions are lifted.
“If the North and the South join forces, sanctions or pressures from the outside cannot get in our way to prosperity,” Kim said, adding that he will not allow “outside forces” to interfere.
Kim also sent a letter to Moon on Sunday, expressing his willingness to meet his South Korean counterpart “often” in the coming year to move their peace process and denuclearization talks forward, according to the presidential Blue House in Seoul. He also sent a “conciliatory message” to Trump, according to South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper.
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.
Harry Kazianis, director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest, said Kim had clearly shown that North Korea is willing to continue talks on denuclearization, “but on its terms.”
If the Trump administration maintains its stance that no sanctions relief will be granted until Kim entirely dismantles his nuclear program, tensions could rise once again, he wrote in an email. But Kazianis said it was time for the United States to truly test Kim’s intentions through “a grand bargain on denuclearization that matches action for action.”
Last year’s New Year’s Day address came at a time of much greater tension, but Kim used that opportunity to balance tough talk with a rare olive branch to South Korea.
In that speech, Kim said he had a “nuclear button” on his desk with weapons capable of reaching the United States, but he also opened a path to dialogue with Seoul and expressed willingness to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
In this year’s address, Kim reminded viewers that athletes from the two Koreas had marched together under a joint Korean flag at the Opening Ceremonies of those Games.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Simon Denyer, Min Joo