(CNSNews.com) – Kim Jong Un ushered in 2019 underlining a commitment to not manufacture, use or proliferate nuclear weapons, but warned that continuing U.S. sanctions and pressure may compel him to “find a new way” to defend North Korea’s sovereignty.
Recalling his summit with President Trump in Singapore last June, the North Korean dictator in a New Year message expressed a willingness to meet with him again, “anytime,” in a bid to achieve “results which can be welcomed by the international community.”
Trump in a tweet Tuesday reacted to a news report on the speech, saying, “I also look forward to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!”
Early last month Trump indicated that he would likely hold a second summit with Kim in January or February.
As has become customary in Kim’s lengthy New Year speeches – this was his seventh – the bulk dealt with domestic issues, enlivened with revolutionary slogans.
“Let’s open a new road of advance for socialist construction under the uplifted banner of self-reliance!” he declared. “Let’s usher in a heyday of peace, prosperity and reunification of the Korean peninsula by thoroughly implementing the historic north-south declarations!”
As in previous years, the main foreign policy-related material came near the end.
Kim said the summit with Trump had brought about a dramatic shift in a bilateral relationship that had been “the most hostile on the earth.”
“Accordingly, we declared at home and abroad that we would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them, and we have taken various practical measures,” he said.
“If the U.S. responds to our proactive, prior efforts with trustworthy measures and corresponding practical actions, bilateral relations will develop wonderfully at a fast pace through the process of taking more definite and epochal measures.”
Kim indicated that while he was prepared to hold another summit with Trump, he expected something in return.
“If the United States does not keep the promise it made in the eyes of the world, and out of miscalculation of our people’s patience, it attempts to unilaterally enforce something upon us and persists in imposing sanctions and pressure against our republic,” he said, “we may be compelled to find a new way for defending the sovereignty of the country and the supreme interests of the state and for achieving peace and stability of the Korean peninsula.”
The annual Jan. 1 speech comes at a time when Pyongyang has been bristling at U.S. criticism of its human rights record, and the recent imposition of sanctions for rights abuses and censorship on three of Kim’s top officials.
The regime has also expressed frustration at what it views as a lack of reciprocity from the U.S., after it freed three American hostages in a pre-summit gesture, dismantled some military facilities, and facilitated the return of the remains of Americans missing in action since the Korea War.
US wants ‘verifiable plan’ for denuclearization
North Korean leaders’ New Year pronouncements – whether televised speeches or, in some past years, editorials in official media outlets – are closely watched as the reclusive regime uses them both to review the just-ended year and to lay out priorities for the year ahead.
In last year’s speech Kim surprised many by offering to send a delegation to take part in the Winter Olympics in South Korea, then just a month away. The proposal prompted urgent North-South talks – the first in two years – and the beginning of a process that saw Kim meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in three times during 2018, and with Trump in June.
One year earlier, the New Year speech had been an especially belligerent one, with Kim describing his impoverished nation as “a nuclear power, a military giant in the East which no enemy, however formidable, would dare to provoke,” and announcing that preparations for test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile had “entered the final stage.”
In response Trump – then president-elect – tweeted, “It won’t happen!” but Pyongyang the following July marked U.S. Independence Day with its first-ever test launch of an ICBM theoretically able to reach parts of the U.S. mainland.
Through the second half of last year, Trump and members of his administration fended off criticism at home about the slow progress in talks with the regime by pointing out the difference in the tone of rhetoric, and the fact there have been no further nuclear or missile tests.
Still, the administration has shown signs of impatience. Last November, after a scheduled meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a top North Korean official was called off, Vice President Mike Pence said that a second Trump-Kim summit must produce a “verifiable plan” to identify the regime’s nuclear weapons and missile sites, allow for inspections, and include preparations to dismantle the weapons.