WASHINGTON – North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un offered a New Year’s Day olive branch to his neighbors in South Korea – but it came with a nuclear warning to the U.S.
Declaring his country as “a peace-loving and responsible nuclear power,” he called for improved ties with the South, saying, “When it comes to North-South relations, we should lower the military tensions on the Korean Peninsula to create a peaceful environment. Both the North and the South should make efforts.”
Kim said he will consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics Games to be held in Pyongyang, 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.
That was the good news.
The bad news was ominous, saying North Koreas would focus “mass producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment” in the coming year. Kim said this was a commitment “irreversible with any force.”
Kim insisted his nukes are now a reality, not a threat.
“The U.S. should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table,” Kim said in his speech to the nation. “This is reality, not a threat. The entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range. … The United States can never start a war against me and our country.”
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South Korea welcomed Kim’s offer to send a delegation to the Pyongyang 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.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said North Korea’s participation will ensure safety of the Pyongyang 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.
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.
Historically, North Korea has 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.
Asked by reporters to comment on Kim’s speech, U.S. President Donald Trump simply said “we’ll see, we’ll see, as he walked into New Year’s eve celebration at Mar-a-Lago, his resort in Florida.
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Kim’s New Year’s address.
North Korea tested intercontinental ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September in defiance of international warnings and sanctions, raising fears of a new conflict on the Korean peninsula.
After testing what Pyongyang said was its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), capable of delivering a warhead to anywhere in the continental United States, at the end of November, Kim declared his nuclear force complete.