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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a broadcast Tuesday said he is willing to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump at any time, while stressing that Pyongyang seeks corresponding measures from Washington.
Speaking in a televised 2019 New Year Address broadcast on state network Korean Central Television (KCTV) at 0900 KST, the DPRK leader stressed he hoped to “build a new relationship” between the DPRK and U.S.
“With the right posture and will, this can happen,” Kim said, in a speech that comes amid a notable stalling of talks on the DPRK’s nuclear program between Pyongyang and Washington.
Kim used the address, however, to extend something of an olive branch to the U.S., reiterating his “firm determination” to improve relations with Washington.
“I think we both understood the situation… I am ready to meet the U.S. President at any time,” he said.
“I met the U.S. President in June, and while having a useful summit, exchanging constructive views, and I believe we shared the same sense that our respective fears and issues need a speedy resolution,” he continued.
“I want to believe that great results can be achieved between the DPRK and the United States going forward through mutual efforts, as has occurred in relations between the two Koreas.”
U.S. officials have said that planning is underway for what would be the second summit between the North Korean leader and the U.S. President, though more concrete details about time and place are yet to emerge.
Much of the delays in DPRK-U.S. talks have hinged on progress on denuclearization, and Tuesday saw the North Korean leader stress his country has already begun steps towards disarmament.
“We have already declared internally and externally that we will no longer make, use or spread nuclear weapons, and have implemented a range of actual measures with regard to this.”
But in a speech marked by diplomatic rhetoric and a marked focus on economic development, the DPRK leader also stressed Pyongyang’s desire for relief from international sanctions and warned that the U.S. should not test his country’s patience.
“If the U.S. pushes sanctions, then we will have no choice but to find another way to guarantee peace on the peninsula,” Kim said.
He also issued a call for the end to join ROK-U.S. military exercises on the peninsula, warning that “strategic assets” should never be deployed in the South.
In a change to typical format, Tuesday’s broadcast featured a seated Kim, accompanied by framed photos of his father and grandfather.
He was accompanied before the speech by his sister and senior party official Kim Yo Jong, as well as private secretary Kim Chang Son and vice department director of the Central Committee Jo Yong Won.
The speech began with a greeting to “fellow compatriots” in South Korea, and Kim used much of the address to praise recent progress in inter-Korean relations.
“In the reconciliation of the Korean people, we have taken dramatic steps towards peace,” Kim said, hailing the three summits and describing September’s military agreement as “a de facto non-aggression declaration.”
“We must keep pushing in the fight towards unification by and for Koreans,” he said, pledging that the DPRK would “not let foreign powers interfere” in the reunification process.
That point was reiterated by Kim’s declaration of “unconditional support” for the restarting of inter-Korean cooperation at the Mount Kumgang resort and at the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC).
The two Koreas in September agreed to restart work on those projects when the circumstances allowed it – widely seen as a recognition that any new cooperation would require a relaxing of international sanctions against Pyongyang.
“Cooperation and exchanges between the North and South must be expanded and develop in all areas in order to consolidate national reconcilation and unity, so that the entire nation can see the fruits of improving inter-Korean relations in practice,” the leader added.
Kim also reiterated his support for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, agreed to by Seoul and Pyongyang in an April summit and likely to require Chinese and U.S. input.
“With the close agreement of the parties to the end of war declaration, multilateral negotiation that will turn the armistice system on the Korean peninsula into a peace system must be actively pursued so that permanent peace… is actually put in place,” he said.
The leader also used the speech to commit himself to “strategic communication and close relations” with other “socialist nations” – comments that follow a year of improving relations with China and sustained diplomatic outreach to Vietnam, Syria, and Cuba.
The speech’s first section was devoted to the economy, filled with familiar slogans of “self-reliance” and home-made technology but also containing clues as to the country’s economic changes to come.
While Kim claimed in the same speech that production of nuclear weapons had ceased, he also said nuclear energy should play a role in solving the country’s energy woes.
Kim mentioned coal and thermoelectric power plants as other sources of energy, too, for which he said the state will “provide the necessary facilities and resources.”
North Korea will in 2019, according to Kim, “fully perfect our industrial production,” “expand light industry,” and “innovate management methods.”
The leader also called on the country to improve incentives and enterprise management, in comments that follow a year which has seen Kim and other officials appear more willing to admit to failures and mistakes in economic projects.
“The state’s unified leadership over the economy as a whole must be affected while management techniques improved so as to ensure that the spontaneous enthusiasm and creativity of workers is maximally aroused,” he said.
“The cabinet and the state’s leadership organizations must improve planning, price-related activities, fiscal and financial management in line with the laws of socialism, while ensuring that economic levers actively facilitate the invigoration of enterprise production and expansion of production.”
The country’s recent renewed focus on science and technology was also present in the address, with Kim pressing for “increase investment in talented individuals” and “development of teaching methods.”
In the agricultural sector, Kim mentioned private, small-scale livestock production, and said the lives of the people can be improved on the agricultural front with resources provided in a more scientific way.
Then there are the country’s forefront construction projects, with Kim maintaining state focus on the Wonsan-Kalma beach resort project and Samjiyon redevelopment – scheduled to be completed by October 10 this year and the following October respectively.
If last year’s speech is any indication, today’s address should be a reliable sign of North Korea’s actions in the coming year.
That address saw Kim express his willingness to “urgently” coordinate with South Korea over the North’s participation in the then-fast-approaching Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Featured image: KCTV screengrab, edited by NK News