Kim Jong-un threatens return to nuclear standoff with US

The North Korean leader did say he was willing to meet Mr Trump again - and said relations can "advance at a fast and excellent pace" if the United States eases sanctions and halts joint military exercises with South Korea.

But he said North Korea would seek a new path if the USA misjudged its patience and insisted on unilateral demands.

South Korea welcomed Kim's address, with the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae saying the speech reflects his wish for the development of inter-Korean ties and Pyongyang-Washington relations.

The setting, which mimics the one favored by Chinese President Xi Jinping for his New Year address, marks a departure from previous years when Kim stood before an assembly hall packed with officials.

"We are willing to resume the Kaesong industrial complex and tour program to Kumgangsan without any preconditions or price, in consideration of South Korean businessmen who once worked at the complex and their hard situation, along with the hopes of our South Korean comrades who seek to visit our people's famous mountain", Kim said in his speech.

Kim called his June summit meeting with Trump "instructive" and said they had shared "constructive opinions" on mutual concerns and "speedy solutions to the tangled issues" they faced.

Kim's proposal to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a symbol of cooperation between two Koreas until its 2016 shutdown, and allow South Korean tourists into the North are "quite acceptable" for the Moon government, but he is not able to deliver due to Washington's constraints, he said.

The North is demanding relief from the multiple sanctions imposed on it over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and has condemned United States insistence on its nuclear disarmament as "gangster-like".

The North Korean leader on Tuesday reiterated his determination to achieve complete denuclearization and also called for economic development in his annual New Year's address, stressing the need to strengthen the North's defense.

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He also said he was ready to meet Mr Trump again at any time.

At the time, the two leaders signed a vaguely-worded pledge on denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, but progress has since stalled with Pyongyang and Washington arguing over their agreement's interpretation.

"(But) we could be left with no choice but to seek a new way if the USA does not make good on its promises, misjudges our patience, while seeking to force things unilaterally and clinging to sanctions and pressure", he said. 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. "He's exuding confidence that his country isn't hung up over the US, that they can still prosper without Washington".

That could suggest Kim wants the resumption of the two projects as sanctions relief from the U.S. Neither of those would be possible for South Korea unless sanctions are removed. He said there would be faster progress on denuclearisation if the United States took corresponding action.

Kim's remarks were "apparently created to revive the momentum of the negotiations", South Korea's centrist Hankook Ilbo newspaper said in an editorial Wednesday.

Kim's reference to pledges not to make nuclear weapons could indicate a first moratorium on such weapons production, although it was not clear if this was conditional.

"I don't see that happening because the United States wants to secure its position in the region for the deepening US-China rivalry", Professor Robert Nagy, an worldwide relations specialist at global Christian University in Tokyo, said.

"Chairman Kim's firm commitment is expected to have a positive effect on resolving the Korean Peninsula issue smoothly in the new year", Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said.

U.S. officials say those initial steps were not confirmed and can be easily reversed, and have called for strict sanctions enforcement on the impoverished country until full, verifiable disarmament. China has been the key benefactor for North Korea's economy.

  • Sonia Alvarado