Kim Jong-un warns he'll seek a 'new path' if U.S. continues to demand unilateral action from North Korea
North Korean leader has demanded Washington lift all sanctions against the rogue nation
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Tuesday that his resolve for complete denuclearization remains unchanged but he may have to seek a "new path" if the United States continues to demand unilateral action from his country.
In his New Year's address, Kim said there would be faster progress on denuclearization if the United States takes corresponding action. He added that he is willing to meet U.S. President Donald Trump at any time to produce results that the international community would welcome.
North Korea however would have "no option but to explore a new path in order to protect our sovereignty" if the United States "miscalculates our people's patience, forces something upon us and pursues sanctions and pressure without keeping a promise it made in front of the world," Kim said.
It was not clear what "new path" the North Korean leader was referring to.
Kim and Trump vowed to work toward denuclearization and build a "lasting and stable" peace regime at their landmark summit in Singapore in June, but both sides have since been struggling to make progress.
Pyongyang has demanded Washington lift sanctions and declare an official end to the 1950-53 Korean War in response to its initial, unilateral steps toward denuclearization, including dismantling its only known nuclear testing site and a key missile engine facility.
Kim also called for South Korea to "completely stop" joint military drills with the United States involving strategic assets, while multilateral negotiations should be pursued to build a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
"Now that North and South Korea decided on the path of peace and prosperity, we insist that joint military exercises with outside forces should no longer be allowed and deployment of war weapons such as outside strategic assets should be completely stopped," Kim said.
Some analysts say North Korea has been trying to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul while putting the larger burden of action on the United States. Pyongyang 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.
Kim used his New Year's speech a year ago to start a newfound diplomatic approach with Seoul and Washington, which led to three summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and a historic June summit with Trump in Singapore. 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.
But nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled in recent months as they struggle with the sequencing of North Korea's disarmament and the removal of U.S.-led sanctions against the North.
The North has also bristled at U.S. demands to provide a detailed account of nuclear and missile facilities that would be inspected and dismantled under a potential deal.
The hardening stalemate has fuelled doubts on whether Kim will ever voluntarily relinquish the nuclear weapons and missiles he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival. In his meetings with Trump and Moon, Kim signed vague statements calling for the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula without describing when and how it would occur.
But North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of denuclearization that bears no resemblance to the American definition, with Pyongyang vowing to pursue nuclear development until the United States removes its troops and the nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan. The North used a blunt statement last month to reiterate its traditional stance on denuclearization, saying it will never unilaterally give up its weapons unless Washington removes what Pyongyang describes as a nuclear threat.
Washington and Pyongyang have yet to reschedule a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean officials after the North cancelled it at the last minute in November. There are views that North Korea wants a quick second summit because it thinks it can win major concessions from Trump that they probably couldn't from lower level U.S. officials, who are more adamant about the North committing to inspections and verification.
With files from The Associated Press