[Newsmaker] NK leader says nuclear button always on his desk

By Yeo Jun-suk

Kim Jong-un expresses willingness to send delegation to PyeongChang Olympics

Published : Jan 1, 2018 - 15:39
Updated : Jan 1, 2018 - 18:19

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un warned Monday that his country’s nuclear arsenal was complete and the launch button was always on his desk, even as he expressed a willingness to send a delegation to the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics.

In his nationally televised New Year’s speech, the young leader claimed the country had mastered full-fledged nuclear force and deterrence capability against the US, as the Trump administration threatened military actions on the North’s nuclear and missile facilities.

While showing defiance to the US, Kim struck a conciliatory note toward Seoul, saying he is open to resuming bilateral talks to discuss the North’s participation in the Olympics and other measures to ease cross-border tensions.

“The entire area of the US mainland is within our nuclear strike range. The US should now acknowledge that the button for nuclear weapons is always on my desk. They should know it is not blackmail but a reality,” Kim said in his nationally televised New Year’s speech.

“The Winter Olympics will be a prime opportunity to demonstrate the spirit of our people. In that regard, we are prepared to take various steps, including the dispatch of a delegation and I believe the authorities of North and South Korea can urgently meet to discuss the matter.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers a New Year’s address on Monday at the North’ ruling Workers Party building in Pyongyang. Yonahp

South Korea’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae welcomed the North Korean leader’s expression of willingness to participate in the Olympics, saying it will be conducive to bringing peace and stability to the Korean Peninsula and beyond.

In an interview with NBC News last month, President Moon Jae-in said South Korea was willing to push back the upcoming Key Resolve exercise if North Korea shows willingness to pause their nuclear and missile tests before the Winter Games kick off on Feb. 9.

Asked whether North Korea had attached strings to the proposal -- Kim Jong-un urged South Korea to stop a nuclear warfare drill with a foreign nation -- Cheong Wa Dae said the proposal itself has delivered “meaningful signal.”

“Whether there was conditions or not (to the North’s proposal of participating in the Olympics), we have to take time until we figure out what their proposal means,” a Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters under the condition of customary anonymity.

South Korea and the US have not publicly announced whether they would postpone the military drill. If they decided to proceed with the exercise as they did last year, it would coincide with the Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games, which are to be held from Feb. 9-25 and from March 9-18, respectively.

The young leader’s mixed message -- nuclear threats toward Washington and a conciliatory tone toward Seoul -- is part of the North’s “peaceful offensive” strategy aimed at improving inter-Korean ties as a way to gain concessions from the US over its nuclear program, analysts said.

Dressed in a western-style gray suit and tie, the young leader devoted initial parts of his address reiterating his country’s accomplishment with nuclear program until he moved on to focus on improving inter-Korean ties.

“Through the message, Kim shows that there is not much expectation from the Trump administration as it faces mid-term election in 2018. Instead, it offered proactive peaceful offensive to South Korea,” said Kim Dong-yup, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Far East Institute.

The Trump administration has ratcheted up pressure against North Korea, saying military options are on the table to stop the North’s nuclear program. The South Korean Moon Jae-in administration, on the other hand, has opposed any attempts to put the country in the danger of war.

Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that the US is ”closer to a nuclear war with North Korea“ than ever as Trump’s provocative rhetoric aimed at Kim can indicate he would prefer to take a more aggressive approach to countering the North’s nuclear program.

Cheong Seong-jang, a senior research fellow at Sejong Institute in Seoul, said although there will be an uptick of inter-Korean exchanges next year, that doesn’t mean North Korea will show signs of abating its relentless pursuit of advancing nuclear strike capability.

“Built on the confidence that it had built a nuclear power state, Kim Jong-un expressed willingness to improve the two Koreas’ relations… We should focus on how to reconcile resolving North Korea’s nuclear issue with improving the two Koreas’ relations.”

By Yeo Jun-suk(jasonyeo@heraldcorp.com)

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