North Korea extends both warning and olive branch
Kim Jong Un on Jan. 1 warned the United States that he has a “nuclear button” on his desk ready for use if North Korea is threatened, but offered an olive branch to South Korea, saying he was “open to dialogue” with Seoul.
After a year dominated by fiery rhetoric and escalating tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Kim used his televised New Year’s Day speech to declare North Korea “a peace-loving and responsible nuclear power” and call for lower military tensions on the Korean peninsula and improved ties with the South.
“When it comes to North-South relations, we should lower the military tensions on the Korean Peninsula to create a peaceful environment,” Kim said. “Both the North and the South should make efforts.”
Kim said he will consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics Games to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.
“North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to showcase the national pride and we wish the Games will be a success. Officials from the two Koreas may urgently meet to discuss the possibility,” Kim said.
South Korea said it welcomed Kim’s offer to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Games and hold talks with the South to discuss possible participation.
“We have always stated our willingness to talk with North Korea anytime and anywhere if that would help restore inter-Korean relations and lead to peace on the Korean peninsula,” a spokesman for the presidential Blue House said.
“We hope the two Koreas will sit down and find a solution to lower tensions and establish peace on the Korean peninsula.”
Lee Hee-beom, president of the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee, said the organization welcomed participation by the North Koreans.
“The committee will discuss relevant matters with the South Korean government as well as the International Olympic Committee,” he said in a statement.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said North Korea’s participation will ensure safety of the Pyeongchang Olympics and proposed last month that Seoul and Washington postpone large military drills that the North denounces as a rehearsal for war until after the Games.
Rather than encouraging U.S. measures that “threaten the security and peace of the Korean peninsula,” Seoul should instead respond to overtures from the North, and “stop nuclear war exercises with foreign forces, Kim said.
North Korea tested intercontinental ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September in defiance of international warnings and sanctions, raising fears of a new conflict on the Korean peninsula.
After testing what Pyongyang said was its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), capable of delivering a warhead to anywhere in the continental United States, at the end of November, Kim declared his nuclear force complete.
He continued that theme in his New Year’s address, announcing that North Korea would focus on “mass producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment” in the coming year.
This, Kim said, was “irreversible with any force,” making it impossible for the United States to start a war against North Korea.
“The whole territory of the U.S. is within the range of our nuclear strike and a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office and this is just a reality, not a threat,” he said, while emphasizing that the weapons would only be used if North Korea is threatened.