North Korea’s Kim ‘open to dialogue’ with South Korea, will only use nukes if threatened

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes a closing remark at 5th Conference of Cell Chairpersons of the Workers' Party of Korea
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes a closing remark at 5th Conference of Cell Chairpersons of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) on December 23 in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang December 24, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS

January 2, 2018

By Heekyong Yang and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – Kim Jong Un warned the United States on Monday he had a “nuclear button” on his desk ready for use if North Korea was 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 Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, the North Korean leader used his televised New Year’s Day speech to declare his country “a peace-loving and responsible nuclear power” and call for lower military tensions 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 would consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics Games 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. But U.S.-based experts saw Kim’s speech as a clear attempt to divide Seoul from its main ally, Washington, which has led an international campaign to pressure North Korea through sanctions to give up weapons programs aimed at developing nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States.

“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 South Korean presidency said.

Lee Hee-beom, president of the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee, said it welcomed North Korean participation and would “discuss relevant matters with the South Korean government as well as the International Olympic Committee.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said North Korea’s participation would ensure the safety of the 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.

Asked to comment on Kim’s speech, U.S. President Donald Trump said: “We’ll see, we’ll see,” as he walked into a New Year’s Eve celebration at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

‘POKES AT THE FISSURE’

The U.S. State Department did not respond to a requests for comment on Kim’s New Year’s address, but analysts said it was an attempt to weaken the U.S.-South Korean alliance.

“This speech pokes at the fissure that has lain below the surface in U.S.-South Korean relations, and seems designed to drive a wedge there,” said Douglas Paal, a former senior U.S. diplomat who heads the Asia program at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“President Moon needs a successful Olympics and the U.S. drive to increase pressure fits poorly with the Southern agenda.”

Evans Revere, another former senior U.S. diplomat who took part in unofficial talks with North Korean officials last year, said Pyongyang would likely try to extract concessions as a “price” for Olympics participation.

“It’s hard to imagine Seoul falling for this,” he said, adding that Seoul and Washington had so far stayed in synch in the pressure and isolation campaign.

Revere said Kim’s speech contained the strongest defense yet of North Korea’s status as a permanently nuclear-armed country.

“Implicit in Kim Jong Un’s speech is a willingness to engage with others, including the United States, on the basis of their acceptance of the ‘reality’ of North Korea’s permanent nuclear status. That’s not a basis on which the United States is prepared to engage,” he said.

Moon took office last May pledging to engage Pyongyang in dialogue. But North Korea snubbed his overtures, including an offer to hold inter-Korean military talks about ceasing hostile activities along the border, as it tested missiles at an unprecedented pace.

Kim said that 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.”

‘REALITY, NOT A THREAT’

North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September in defiance of international sanctions, raising fears of a new conflict on the Korean peninsula.

After North Korea tested its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in November, which it said was capable of delivering a warhead to anywhere in the United States, Kim declared his nuclear force complete.

He continued that theme in his New Year’s address, announcing that North Korea would focus in 2018 on “mass-producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment”.

That, 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 was threatened.

Kim’s customary New Year’s speech is closely watched for indications of the policy direction the unpredictable and reclusive leader is likely to pursue in the coming year.

Daniel Russel, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia until last April and now at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said there was an argument to be made to encourage North Korea’s Olympic participation but that it should not be taken too far.

“It’s perfectly legitimate to dial down some of the signaling and the rhetoric … but not to load up their tray with concessions in advance. We should reward responsible behavior, but not try to bribe North Korea into behaving; that doesn’t work,” he said.

Nam Sung-wook, a North Korea expert at Korea University in Seoul said Kim was likely to tone down his weapons testing – at least ahead of the Olympics.

“What North Korea is most afraid of is being forgotten in the international arena,” he said. “Without launching missiles and conducting a nuclear test, North Korea will be in the spotlight just by attending the Winter Olympics.”

Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at Washington’s conservative Center for the National Interest, said that if North Korea did participate in the Olympics, there could be a lull in tensions, but only a brief one.

“As we move into the spring, Pyongyang will once again test all different types of missiles and weapons,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim in Seoul, David Brunnstrom and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington and Roberta Rampton in West Palm Beach, Fla; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Peter Cooney)

  • J. Waltam

    This little creep and his kin have got to away – like now and forever.

  • All American

    KJU – check mate beeach!

  • Comanche457

    I think he smells the napalm in the morning.

  • Jacquline McClure

    How thru the years dose this man not received the education on our country, we blast our enemies out of the water and then some. Was Kim Jong Un asleep in his class while this was taught or did they exempt the history of our great nation!

  • All American

    He has no move left. Check mate!!

  • A marcus Young

    Will he be using the uranium that Hillary sold to the Russians?

  • AKcharle

    Yeah….and Kim Jong Un’s father said, “Surely you will not die.”

  • intimeforthedime

    The word “threaten” means many different dynamic things to NK.
    Whenever NK does not get what they want, they will be “threatened”.

    I say we slap them down now. The longer we wait, the harder it will be for our troops…or your son’s and daughters.

    • Robert Adams

      A concerted, allied ocean embargo might be better. Then NK would have to rely on cross border shipments through China – putting China in violation of the UN sanctions – or maybe Russia’s 100 mile border, creating the same violation for Russia.

      • Maulerman

        Really u think Russia and China care what the UN or the USA think. They are playing the North Koreans. The real problem is China and Russia. The USA didn’t have the guts to stand up to China during the Korean War and the Russians at the end of WWII like Patton suggested. We let these 2 countries fester and NOW the world can do nothing while they mock the USA, Europe and the UN. The US is still focused on China’s wealth while overlooking what this country does. In the end the US will posture and nothing will be done. The USA has passed it’s prime. Now the Millenials are in charge and this country is doomed at the hands of these pacifist wimps.

        • Stonecrusher

          Guess you have booked seats with Dennis Rodman at the NK Olympic pavilion beside Lil’ Kim. what a disrespectful display of anti-American feeling. Go back to your motherland.

  • akafett

    Don’t trust him. He only wants talks to buy himself time. Any missile test is costly; he probably needs the time to get his dollars back in order so he can continue his game.

    • Robert Adams

      Or the next contraband carrying tanker into port.

  • Sturgeon General

    the big question is what constitutes a threat to a rabid animal ?

  • JJake Spitz

    NK threatened! Is there anything there that any other country wants? Who would ever want to inherent their despair.

  • Andrew Gockel

    The United States military should squash Kim. just like a gnat. In the past ten years, he has taken hostage by the U.S., led by Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Trump will handle Kim like a spoiled idiot Kim is.

  • Tony Anthony

    NK will threaten us on a daily basis, As long as our Military is doing it’s job and monitoring the situation, and be prepared to shoot down any missal heading our way, then we can deal with this monster. Someday, the people of NK will wake up and get rid of this man

  • JaySands1234

    So when Kim pushes the button does Wiley coyote light the fuse on the Acme rocket?

  • Deplorable Dirty Harry

    LittleFatPigmy is like a zit on the worlds butt, time to pop it.

  • ilovemygoats

    He SHOULDN’T HAVE ANY nukes “to use if threatened” period! Krazy Kim needs to go and so does NK nuclear program

  • Stan d

    North Korea threatened us thousands of times, can we nuke them now?!

  • MJS92882

    button on his desk…… hes watching too many cartoons. this guy and his nukes are useless and harmless to the USA.

    • nfcapitalist

      What of the US troops we have there… harmless to them guys wearing green in South Korea?

  • Steven Wilson

    Impossible….Isn’t in the United States militaries manuals.
    Destroyed and terminated is though.

    • Tango Uniform

      Rule 1: Empty the clip

      • Deplorable Dirty Harry

        USAF rule 1: bombs away

    • All American

      🇺🇸These Colors don’t Run🇺🇸

  • RMCS Ret.

    In the way of the eastern mind, Kim is saying. I’m caving to economic pressure and willing to talk. Yeah, he’s willing to talk, but what is his end game?

    • nfcapitalist

      The Romans called it “Tribute.”

    • All American

      What would the world do if Hitler reared his psychopathic being again? KJU is worse than Hitler who in the beginning fed his people well.

  • whoselineisitanyway

    Kim Jong UN is bonkers.

  • All American

    Little fat “Mad” irritant on the loose!!!