Seoul – South Korea has proposed high-level talks with North Korea on January 9 in response to Kim Jong Un’s offer of an olive branch of peace and a “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.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday the improvement of inter-Korean relations was linked to resolving North Korea’s nuclear program.
“The improvement of relations between North and South Korea cannot go separately with resolving North Korea’s nuclear program, so the foreign ministry should coordinate closely with allies and the international community regarding this,” Moon said in opening remarks at a cabinet meeting.
Kim also 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 US-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.”
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, US 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.
Kim said that rather than encouraging US 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.”
In his New Year’s address, Kim announced 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 US 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.