Kim Jong-un says he’d drop denuclearisation if Trump tests patience

Kim Jong-un dons Western suit and delivers New Year’s speech from leather armchair declaring he could drop denuclearisation ‘for a new path’ if Trump tests his patience

  • North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un addressed his people in a New Year’s speech
  • He said he hopes to meet with Donald Trump in 2019 to work on denuclearisation
  • However, also warned the United States not to test Pyongyang’s patience

Kim Jong Un has warned the United States not to test Pyongyang’s patience with sanctions and pressure in a televised New Year’s speech today.  

Foregoing his traditional Mao-style buttoned-up black shirt, the North Korean dictator dressed in a Western business suit and tie to deliver his annual speech, sat beneath two huge portraits of his father and grandfather.

Kim said he hopes to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump in 2019 and produce an outcome ‘welcomed by the international community’ on denuclearisation.

However, he said the North will be forced to take a different path if the United States ‘continues to break its promises and misjudges the patience of our people by unilaterally demanding certain things and pushes ahead with sanctions and pressure.’

Ma-Kim a point: Kim Jong Un warned Washington not to ‘break its promises and misjudge the patience’ of North Korea in his New Year’s speech

Kim also 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. 

He also made a nationalistic call urging for stronger inter-Korean cooperation and said the North is ready to resume operations at a jointly run factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong and restart South Korean tours to the North’s Diamond Mountain resort. Neither of those is possible for South Korea unless sanctions are removed.


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Some analysts say North Korea has been trying to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul while putting the larger burden of action on the United States. 

Pyongyang over the past months has accused Washington of failing to take corresponding measures following the North’s unilateral dismantlement of a nuclear testing ground and suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests.

Washington and Pyongyang are trying to arrange a second summit between Trump and Kim, who met in Singapore on June 12.

Kim Jong-un said he hopes to meet with Donald Trump, pictured yesterday with his son Barron and wife Melania on New Year’s eve, in 2019 and produce an outcome ‘welcomed by the international community’ on denuclearisation.

‘If the United States takes sincere measures and corresponding action to our leading and pre-emptive efforts, then (U.S.-North Korea) relations will advance at a fast and excellent pace through the process of implementing (such) definite and groundbreaking measures,’ said Kim, who delivered the speech sitting on a leather chair, wearing a black suit and gray-blue tie.

‘It is the unwavering position of our party and the republic’s government and my firm will that the two countries as declared in the June 12 joint statement … take steps to establish a permanent and stable peace regime and push toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,’ he said. 

‘Therefore, we have already declared domestically and internationally and took various actions showing our commitment that we will no further create or test nuclear weapons and will not use or spread them.’

Adam Mount, a senior analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, said Kim appears to be hinting at an agreement that falls short of a full disarmament, but could still represent a major limitation of the North Korean threat – a cap that essentially freezes the North’s rudimentary nuclear capability from growing or advancing further. In exchange, the United States would have to offer major inducements, including sanctions relief.

‘U.S. negotiators should move decisively in the new year to find out how far Kim is willing to go toward a verified cap on his arsenal. Discussions on reducing or eliminating that arsenal come later,’ Mount said in an email.

However, Kim’s statement could prove problematic if there’s ongoing evidence the North’s nuclear and missile facilities continue to run. Private analysts have accused North Korea of continuing nuclear and missile development, citing details from commercial satellite imagery.

Kim delivered the televised New Year’s speech sitting on a leather chair, wearing a black suit and gray-blue tie

As the camera panned out, it showed two large portraits of his father Kim Jong-Il, right, and grandfather Kim Il-Sung, left, on the wall behind him

‘Over the last year, signs of continued work on the arsenal were alarming but not duplicitous, because there was never a commitment to stop those activities,’ Mount said. ‘That may no longer be true, raising the risk that the White House feels cheated rather than just stonewalled.’

Kim’s speech also points toward a difficult year for the U.S.-South Korean alliance with their military cooperation coming under pressure from Pyongyang, Seoul’s process for inter-Korean engagement, and Washington’s current inability to reach an agreement on cost-sharing for the U.S. military presence in South Korea. It will be critical for the allies to develop a firmer policy as it’s clear the issue of joint drills is coming to a head, Mount said.

In the speech, Kim hailed the results of the North’s diplomatic activities in 2018, including his three meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Kim said an inter-Korean military agreement reached in their last summit in September to reduce conventional military threats was ‘realistically a non-aggression declaration.’

Kim also emphasized the development of the North Korean economy and, without elaborating, mentioned nuclear power as part of the country’s plans to boost electricity production.

Artistes from the Mansudae Art Troupe, the Phibada Opera Troupe, the National Folk Art Troupe, Kim Won Gyun University of Music and the art squad of the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces and artistes of the Moranbong Electronic Ensemble performed at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang to celebrate the new year last night

A New Year performance is held at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang on New Year’s Eve

Happy new year: Revellers pose for photos before an ice sculpture during a New Year’s eve countdown event and fireworks display on Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang

Huge crowds had gathered in the square in central Pyongyang on Monday evening

South Korea’s government in a statement welcomed what it described as Kim’s commitment toward peace and said Seoul plans to work closely with the international community for the denuclearization of the peninsula while also advancing inter-Korean relations to an ‘irreversible level.’

North Korean leaders traditionally use New Year’s statements to issue major policy goals for the year ahead. Kim used his New Year’s speech a year ago to start a newfound diplomatic approach with Seoul and Washington, which led to his meetings with Moon and Trump. Kim also met three times with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which boosted his leverage by reintroducing Beijing – Pyongyang’s main ally – as a major player in the diplomatic process to resolve the nuclear standoff.

But nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled in recent months as they struggle with the sequencing of North Korea’s disarmament and the removal of U.S.-led sanctions against the North.

The North has also bristled at U.S. demands to provide a detailed account of nuclear and missile facilities that would be inspected and dismantled under a potential deal.

The hardening stalemate has fueled doubts on whether Kim will ever voluntarily relinquish the nuclear weapons and missiles he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival. In his meetings with Trump and Moon, Kim signed vague statements calling for the ‘complete denuclearization’ of the Korean Peninsula without describing when and how it would occur.

But North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of denuclearization that bears no resemblance to the American definition, with Pyongyang vowing to pursue nuclear development until the United States removes its troops and the nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan. The North used a blunt statement last month to reiterate its traditional stance on denuclearization, saying it will never unilaterally give up its weapons unless Washington removes what Pyongyang describes as a nuclear threat.

The statement jarred with Seoul’s claim that Kim is genuinely interested in negotiating away his nukes and suggested that the North will potentially demand the United States withdraw or significantly reduce the 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea, a major sticking point in any disarmament deal.

Washington and Pyongyang have yet to reschedule a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean officials after the North canceled it at the last minute in November. 

There are views that North Korea wants a quick second summit because it thinks it can win major concessions from Trump that they probably couldn’t from lower-level U.S. officials, who are more adamant about the North committing to inspections and verification.

WHAT’S ON KIM’S MIND? FOUR TAKEAWAYS FROM THE DICTATOR’S NEW YEAR’S SPEECH

What’s ahead in 2019 for North Korea? Here are four big takeaways from Kim Jong-Un’s New Year’s speech

1. IT’S STILL ABOUT THE ECONOMY

About two-thirds of the entire speech was devoted to the economy.

Kim last year jettisoned his signature slogan of “simultaneous tracks” – developing nuclear weapons and the economy at the same time – in favor of claiming to focus everything on the economy, which is now the national buzz phrase.

Kim hasn’t given up on his nuclear weapons, he just says he has perfected the arsenal enough to shift the focus of “socialist construction” elsewhere. Kim also didn’t commit to anything in the speech like the kind of major, structural economic changes that might generate sustainable growth, but which could also undermine his own power.

Even so, he does appear to genuinely want to boost the standard of living of his nation and to grow the country’s economy. He underscored that desire by calling for an increased electricity supply and pointed to the possibility of developing nuclear power, along with the need for modernization and innovation across the board.

Despite repeated mentions during the speech of the North’s cherished principle of “Juche,” or self-reliance, Kim understands his country’s economic realities. He is openly seeking more foreign investment and trade.

And he’s hoping to enlist Seoul’s help in that endeavor.

2. KIM WANTS THE KOREAS TO BE TAKING THE LEAD

Though the attention was on his relationship with Trump, Kim’s biggest moves in 2018 were toward South Korea.

Kim’s pitch has been that it is high time Pyongyang and Seoul were leaders in determining their own fate, which is also a shot at the role of the United States on the peninsula.

Kim’s speech was broadcast simultaneously in South Korea.

Addressing both nations at once, he called on all Koreans to – in his decidedly North Korean manner – to “uphold the slogan “Let’s usher in a heyday of peace, prosperity and reunification of the Korean Peninsula by thoroughly implementing the historic North-South declarations!”

Those declarations include a good deal of joint efforts to help Kim with his economic goals, including the renovation and reconnection of the North’s railways to the South. He said he would support the reopening of an industrial park that relies on South Korean capital investments and a tourism zone on the North’s Mount Kumgang, or Diamond Mountain.

Such efforts can’t go very far until sanctions are lifted. Seoul is a lot more willing to forge ahead than Washington.

Pyongyang is also seeking an end to joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises, while Washington is pushing the South to pay more of the cost of keeping its troops there.

The growing Washington-Seoul discord is an added bonus for Kim.

Expect him to keep pushing those buttons.

3. THE NUKES AREN’T GOING ANYWHERE ANYTIME SOON

In the most tantalizing sentence of the speech, Kim hinted at a possible cap on nuclear weapons production if the U.S. takes equivalent steps, whatever that might mean.

He also stood by his commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which, contrary to some wishful thinking in Washington and Seoul, does not mean the unilateral denuclearization of North Korea.

Both areas need to be further clarified in negotiations.

Kim’s calculus has never been to throw away his nuclear arsenal and hope for the best from a newly friendly and supportive administration in Washington. It has from the start been an effort to play the nuclear hand to its greatest advantage.

Kim sees nuclear weapons as a valuable deterrent to a U.S. military strike. Unless that threat is eliminated, he won’t give them up. He also believes his weapons put him in a position of strength from which he can make demands and extract concessions.

The North has been pretty clear about these points. But Kim spelled them out once again.

His message to Trump: Start addressing his concerns about security and sanctions relief soon or he will have no choice but to try a different, less friendly approach. And he is warning that he will be able to make a case to China, Russia and possibly even Seoul that if things fall Washington will be the one to blame.

4. KIM WANTS TO BE SEEN AS HIS OWN MAN

This year’s 30-minute speech was an exercise in making Kim look worldly, firmly in charge and comfortable in his own skin – as opposed to the caricatures of him that are so popular in the West.

Though not a stirring public speaker, Kim confidently delivered the pre-recorded address in a study with dark-wood paneling and the national and ruling party flags.

He was flanked by big portraits of his charismatic grandfather, national founder Kim Il Sung, and his father, the late leader Kim Jong Il, who was famously speech-averse and never spoke like this on New Year’s.

That lineage is as important as ever.

But the images beamed to the nation and to the world Tuesday of Kim delivering the speech were engineered to have a freshness to them that is uniquely his – and to leave the impression that Kim Jong Un is his own man, a modern, respectable leader who belongs on the world stage.

He may very well be sharing that stage next with Trump, for their second summit.

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