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A man watches a television news broadcast, showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s New Year’s address, at a railway station in Seoul on Monday. AFP
A man watches a television news broadcast, showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s New Year’s address, at a railway station in Seoul on Monday. AFP

North Korea signals Olympics truce, seeks talks with Seoul

While reaching out to South Korea on Winter Olympics, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un repeats claims that he could hit anywhere in the US with a nuclear weapon, calls for mass production of nuclear warheads

Seoul: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for urgent talks with South Korea to make the Winter Olympics next month a success even while repeating claims that he could strike the US with a nuclear bomb if necessary.

In an annual New Year’s day speech, Kim said that “we sincerely hope the games will be successful". He said that both Koreas should seek to resolve problems among themselves rather than seek help from outside of the region.

“It’s about time that the North and the South sit down and seriously discuss how to improve inter-Korean relations by ourselves and dramatically open up," Kim said on Monday. Referring to the Olympics, he said later: “We’re willing to take necessary steps including sending our delegation, and for this, the authorities from the North and South could urgently meet."

The remarks indicate an opening for dialogue after months of tensions that have seen President Donald Trump’s administration warn of military action to prevent Kim from threatening the US with nuclear weapons. The United Nations Security Council last month approved its strongest sanctions yet on North Korea—a move that Pyongyang described as an “act of war".

South Korean president Moon Jae-in has repeatedly called for North Korea to join the Olympic games. Since taking office in May, he has pushed for dialogue with Kim’s regime in a bid to ease tensions—a shift from the conservative government that he replaced.

Alliance tensions

Moon’s office held a meeting on Monday to analyze the speech, YTN reported, without saying where it got the information. His government hasn’t immediately responded to requests for comment. The Olympics in Pyeongchang are about 50 miles (80 kilometres) from the North Korean border, prompting concerns that North Korea might disrupt the event.

Kim’s apparent olive branch is aimed at creating tensions in the US-South Korea alliance, according to Yun Duk-min, a former chancellor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

“With South Korea also participating in the international sanctions campaign, it’s not easy for Moon to come forward and accept it before North Korea shows sincerity with denuclearization," Yun said. “Inter-Korean relations will start to improve more fundamentally only if there’s a change in the US-North Korea dynamics."

Nuclear button

While reaching out to South Korea, Kim also repeated claims that he could hit anywhere in the US with a nuclear weapon, and called for mass production of nuclear warheads. He said North Korea’s nuclear deterrent was “irreversible" and that it would prevent Trump from starting a war.

“It’s reality, not a threat, that the nuclear button is always on my desk," Kim said. “The US can never start a war against myself and our nation now."

Asked about the comment, Trump said: “We’ll see, we’ll see."

Kim’s 1 January speeches have previously set the direction for tensions on the Korean peninsula. A year ago, he said North Korea was in its “last stage" of preparations to test fire an intercontinental ballistic missile, and he ended up firing three of them.

War of words

Besides those tests, North Korea also detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear device and fired more than a dozen rockets. South Korea assessed that the most recent launch in late November of a new ICBM—its largest yet—could potentially reach Washington, though additional analysis was needed to determine whether it was capable of re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Last year was also notable for a war of words between Kim and Trump, who repeatedly threatened military action to stop the rogue state’s nuclear program. Trump has nicknamed Kim “Little Rocket Man" and referred to his weight, while the North Korean leader has called the US president a “dotard" and warned of the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history".

Even so, Trump has also floated the idea of friendship with Kim on occasion, and has called on him to “make a deal" on North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Bloomberg

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