Kim warns Trump over nukes
North Korean leader tells US president not to 'misjudge' him on sanctions
Kim Jong-un yesterday renewed a pledge to denuclearise and said he was ready to meet Donald Trump, the US president, for a second time.
But the North Korean leader warned Washington not to "misjudge" his patience and said he may reverse course if there was no sanctions relief.
He delivered his latest missive in a much-anticipated live New Year's address, dressed in a dark Western suit and looking relaxed as he spoke from a plush leather chair in a stately office lined with books and family portraits.
The 30-minute speech was also shown live on South Korean television, in a sign of how much ties have improved between the neighbouring countries after several warm meetings between their two leaders over the past year.
Mr Kim spoke of his satisfaction at the positive turn in relations with Seoul, expressing his wish to turn the armistice agreed at the end of the 1950-53 war into a fully-fledged peace deal.
But a key message of his speech was reserved for Washington, offering a gesture of peace that he said could equally be withdrawn if the US did not meet Pyongyang's expectations on the nuclear disarmament process.
In particular, he demanded an end to South Korea's joint military exercises with the US and to crippling economic sanctions.
"I am always ready to sit down again with the US president at any time and will make efforts to produce an outcome that the international community would welcome," Mr Kim said, in comments translated by the Yonhap news agency.
"[But] we could be left with no choice but to seek a new way if the US does not make good on its promises, misjudges our patience, while seeking to force things unilaterally and clinging to sanctions and pressure," he said.
Ankit Panda, a North Korea expert and editor at 'The Diplomat' magazine, summed up the speech as an opportunity for Mr Kim to "impress on Trump the need for the United States to come through with 'corresponding measures' following [North Korea's] 2018 gestures."
He added: "The suggestion is that while they may meet for a second summit, a breaking point lies ahead if the US refuses to budge on sanctions."
Mr Kim and Mr Trump met for their first historic summit in Singapore in June, agreeing to work together towards the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, but without clearly defining what that statement meant.
In recent months the two sides have reached a diplomatic impasse, each accusing the other of blocking progress. While the US wants North Korea to unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons, Pyongyang has demanded more security guarantees from Washington.
It has also 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.
"If the US responds to our active and pre-emptive efforts with trustworthy steps and corresponding behaviour, [relations] will move forward at an excellent and fast pace," Mr Kim said in his speech.
Some analysts suggested his message was intended to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul, which has been pushing for faster diplomacy with Pyongyang. The North Korean leader appeared to be gearing up to portray the US as the obstacle to progress.
"North Korea has always been adept at putting the onus for action on the United States, taking the initiative in a way that forces Washington to either react on Pyongyang's terms or look like the obstacle to progress," said Mintaro Oba, a former US diplomat specialising in the Koreas.
"Kim Jong-un drew from that playbook in his speech...by offering to take actions that might be popular in South Korea but would require US consent to lift sanctions. This puts both Seoul and Washington in a bind."
The rest of Mr Kim's speech, primarily tailored for a domestic audience, focused on economic and technological progress and the need to develop electricity production.