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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The North Korean leader on Monday warned Washington that Pyongyang could reach the entire U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons at anytime, while also expressing willingness to “urgently” hold an inter-Korean meeting for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Kim Jong Un, clad in a silver-colored western suit and tie, showed notable confidence in his country’s nuclear arsenal during a 30-minute New Year Speech aired by state broadcaster Korean Central Television (KCTV) from 09:00 Pyongyang time.
In remarks translated by NK News, Kim Jong Un said North Korea “finally” has a “strong and reliable deterrent against a war which cannot be reversed by any force or anything.”
“Our nation’s nuclear force can smash and respond to any nuclear threat from the U.S. and our strong deterrence can suppress the U.S. from playing with fire…” Kim said.
And the North Korean leader also warned the U.S. by saying he can order the launch of a nuclear attack at any time.
“The U.S. will never be able to start a war against me and our country,” he said. “The entire U.S. mainland is within striking range of our nuclear weapons, and a nuclear button is always on a desk at my office.
“This is a reality, not a threat.”
However, Kim also said North Korea is a “responsible nuclear power who loves peace…” and would “not use nuclear weapons unless invasive hostile forces violate the sovereignty and interests of our nation…”
MASS PRODUCTION OF WARHEADS
During the New Year Speech, Kim also urged the country to “strengthen its self-reliant national defense capability,” emphasizing in particular the importance of the munitions industry.
“In the field of nuclear weapons research and rocket industries, we must accelerate the project of mass producing and deploying nuclear warheads and ballistic rockets, whose strength and reliability have already been secured,” the leader said.
“It is also necessary to maintain readiness for an immediate nuclear counterattack against the enemies’ nuclear war maneuvers.”
Kim also called for the munitions industry to complete the development of its own production structure, modernize production processes based on advanced science and technology, and “develop and produce Korean-style powerful strategic weapons and armed equipment.”
The remarks notably echoed what had been previously suggested by Kim at the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) 8th Conference of the Munitions Industry held in December.
KIM’S OVERTURE TO SEOUL?
Despite Kim using the speech to ratchet up threats against Washington, the North Korean leader said he could be willing to send a delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics which will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The leader described the forthcoming sporting event as “a good opportunity to show off the status of the people” on the Korean peninsula.
“We sincerely hope that the competition will be held fruitfully,” Kim said. “In this regard, we are willing to take necessary measures including the dispatch of a delegation, and the North and South Korean authorities may hold a meeting (about Pyeongchang) urgently.”
But Kim also expressed dissatisfaction with the Moon Jae-in administration, saying that “nothing has changed in North-South relations despite the ruling party change.”
And Kim emphasized that the two Koreas should resolve inter-Korean issues as “owners” of the issue, emphasizing the importance of dialogue.
“We must carry out our responsibility and role as the main agents for unification by resolving misunderstanding and reliving distrust of each other through making contact and coming and going as well as achieving cooperation and exchanges between the North and the South in a comprehensive manner.”
As such, the leader said Pyongyang would “open the path for dialogue, contact, and coming and going” for anyone who “sincerely wants national reconciliation and unity,” including the South Korean ruling and opposition parties.
“Now is not the time to turn one’s back on each other and express one’s own position,” Kim said. “It’s time to sit face-to-face and seriously improve the problem of North-South relations among our people…”
THREAT AND RECONCILIATION
Analysts based in Seoul said it appeared the intention of Kim Jong Un’s speech was to show confidence in the DPRK nuclear arsenal, while also sending a signal to South Korea at an increasingly volatile time.
“The most important feature of Kim Jong Un’s New Year Speech was to express active willingness to improve inter-Korean relations based on his confidence in North Korea’s ‘completion of nuclear forces,” Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, said on Monday.
Cheong said that Kim’s overture towards an inter-Korean meeting could “establish the atmosphere for reconciliation” through a desire for resuming stalled talks between the two Koreas.
However, he said Pyongyang’s “nuclear and missile threats are expected to continue to increase this year…” in spite of the possibility that the two Koreas could break the ice on talks, referring to Kim’s order for mass production and deployment of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.
“Therefore, it will be necessary for the South Korean government to take a strategic approach to North Korea and find ways to reconcile the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue simultaneous to an improvement in inter-Korean relations…,” Cheong said.
Kim Dong-yub, Assistant Professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Kyungnam University, described the situation as representing “Tong Nam Bong Mi, not Tong Mi Bong Nam.”
Tong Mi Bong Nam (通美封南) is the North’s way of saying it will only communicate with the U.S. on nuclear issues. But Tong Nam Bong Mi (通南封美) could mean it will only discuss the issue with Seoul while shunning Washington.
“As North Korea believes they don’t expect a great deal from the Trump administration – which will soon hold 2018 midterm elections – they appear ready to make an active peace offensive against the South Korean side.”
Kim, however, said he wasn’t sure whether Seoul would be able to accept the North’s proposal.
“I hope Seoul will not consider it as a Northern attempt to alienate and create a fissure in the ROK-U.S. alliance and to shake the South Korean government as well as a strategy to press the U.S.,” Kim said. “The crisis can be an opportunity for the South, depending how they respond.”
Edited by Chad O’Carroll
Featured Image:Korean Central Television