Kim warns North Korea could consider change of tack

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers a speech in North Korea

"If the United States fails to keep its promise to the world and misjudge our patience by unilaterally forcing its ways on us and sticks to sanctions and pressure against the republic (North Korea), we can not help but find a new path to protect the country's sovereignty and best interests, and achieve peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula", he said.

"Kim Jong Un simply reaffirmed what we already know: that North Korea considers progress on denuclearization conditional on Washington providing sanctions relief", said Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department official who worked on North Korean issues. "I am ready to meet the U.S. President at any time", Kim stated. However, he said the North will be forced to take a different path if the United States "continues to break its promises and misjudges the patience of our people by unilaterally demanding certain things and pushes ahead with sanctions and pressure".

Analysts said Kim's message sent clear signals that North Korea is willing to stay in talks with Washington and Seoul this year - but on its own terms.

Kim met US President Donald Trump to discuss denuclearisation in June 2018 but with few results so far.

Kim also called for South Korea to stop joint military exercises with "outside forces" involving strategic assets, calling such drills a "source of tension".

Although Pyongyang did not conduct nuclear or missile tests a year ago, satellite images have pointed to continued activity at the North's related facilities.

Seoul and Washington are in a security alliance and the United States stations 28,500 troops in the South to protect it against its neighbour, which invaded in 1950. Trump has said he would like to hold a summit with Kim in January or February.

"He appeared more confident than ever, emboldened by some of the progress he made past year, which also implies he thinks he has the upper edge in the negotiations with the United States as a nuclear-armed state", said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

The North is subject to multiple sets of United Nations Security Council sanctions over banned nuclear and ballistic missile weapons programmes, which have seen it carry out six atomic tests and launch rockets capable of reaching the entire U.S. mainland.

As the United States is unlikely to back down, analysts said it is up to South Korean President Moon Jae-in - who is due to welcome Mr Kim to Seoul early this year for their fourth summit - to mediate. Neither of those is possible for South Korea unless sanctions are removed. These are the Gaeseong industrial park in North Korea, where South Korean factories use North Korean labor, and the Mount Geumgang resort in North Korea. He also called for a halt to the deployment of "strategic assets" on the Korean Peninsula, an apparent reference to USA bombers and submarines capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

As The Associated Press notes, North Korea "over the past months has 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".

It came after a year of high tensions when the North made rapid progress with its weapons development, carrying out its sixth nuclear test - by far its most powerful to date - and launching rockets capable of reaching the entire USA mainland.

The two sides have yet to reschedule a meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean officials after Pyongyang canceled it at the last minute in November.

Mr Kim also met three times with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which boosted his leverage by reintroducing Beijing - Pyongyang's main ally - as a major player in the diplomatic process to resolve the nuclear standoff.

In the clip, Trump claimed his government had taken steps to improve U.S. relations with North Korea.



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