North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Monday offered an olive branch to South Korea, saying he was “open to dialogue” with Seoul, but warned the United States that he had a “nuclear button” on his desk ready for use if Pyongyang is threatened.
After a year dominated by fiery rhetoric and escalating tensions over his nuclear weapons program, Kim used a New Year’s Day speech to declare his country “a peace-loving and responsible nuclear power” and call for reduced military tensions and improved ties with the South, Reuters reports.
“When it comes to North-South relations, we should lower the military tensions on the Korean Peninsula to create a peaceful environment,” Kim was quoted as saying in the televised speech.
“Both the North and the South should make efforts.”
Kim said he will 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 welcomes Kim’s offer.
“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,” Reuters quoted a spokesman for the South Korean presidency as saying.
Lee Hee-beom, president of the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee, said the panel welcomes North Korean participation and that it will “discuss relevant matters with the South Korean government as well as the International Olympic Committee.”
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 US.
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 Pyongyang tested its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile in November, which it said was capable of delivering a warhead to anywhere in the US, Kim declared his nuclear force complete.
He continued that theme in his New Year’s address, announcing that North Korea will focus in 2018 on “mass-producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment”.
“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.
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