SEOUL (Reuters) – Kim Jong-un yesterday 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 programme, Mr 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,” Mr Kim said. “Both the North and the South should make efforts.”
Mr 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,” Mr Kim said.
South Korea said it welcomed Mr 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 any time 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 organisation welcomed participation by the North Koreans.
“The (organising committee) will discuss relevant matters with the South Korean government as well as the International Olympic Committee,” he said.
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.
Mr Moon took office in May last year pledging to engage Pyongyang in dialogue and restore strained ties after nearly a decade of conservative rule in the South.
But North Korea has so far snubbed his overtures for warmer ties, including an offer to hold inter-Korean military talks about ceasing hostile activities along the border, as it tested missiles at an unpredecented pace and lambasted joint military drills between Seoul and Washington.
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”, Mr Kim said.
Asked by reporters to comment on Mr Kim’s speech, US President Donald Trump simply said “we’ll see, we’ll see” as he walked into New Year’s eve celebrations at Mar-a-Lago, his elite resort in Florida.
The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr Kim’s New Year’s address.