Nuclear button is on my table, warns Kim

Nuclear button is on my table, warns Kim

Nuclear button is on my table, warns Kim

Kim Jong Un on Monday warned the United States he has a "nuclear button" on his desk ready for use if North Korea is threatened, but offered an olive branch to South Korea, saying he was "open to dialogue" with Seoul.

After a year dominated by fiery rhetoric and escalating tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, Kim used his televised New Year's Day speech to declare North Korea "a peace-loving and responsible nuclear power" and call for lower military tensions and improved ties with the South.

"When it comes to North-South relations, we should lower the military tensions on the Korean Peninsula to create a peaceful environment," Kim said. "Both the North and the South should make efforts."

Kim said he would consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics Games to be held 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 welcomed Kim's offer to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Games and hold talks with the South to discuss possible participation.

"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," 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."

Lee Hee-beom, president of the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee, said the organisation welcomed North Korean participation.

"The (organising committee) will discuss relevant matters with the South Korean government as well as the International Olympic Committee," he said in a statement.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said North Korea's participation will ensure the safety of the Pyeongchang 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.

US-based experts saw Kim's speech as a clear attempt to divide South Korea from its main ally, the United States, which has led an international campaign to pressure North Korea to give up weapons programs aimed at developing nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States.

Asked by reporters to comment on Kim's speech, US 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 elite resort in Florida.

The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Kim's New Year's address.

"This speech pokes at the fissure that has lain below the surface in US-South Korean relations, and seems designed to drive a wedge there," said Douglas Paal, a former senior U.S. diplomat who heads the Asia program at Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"Seoul's President Moon needs a successful Olympics and the US drive to increase pressure fits poorly with the Southern agenda."

Evans Revere, another former senior US diplomat who has taken part in unofficial talks with North Korean officials this year, said North Korea was likely to try to extract concessions as a "price" for Olympics participation.

"It's hard to imagine Seoul falling for this," he said, adding that Seoul and Washington had so far stayed in synch in the pressure and isolation campaign.

Revere said Kim Jong Un's speech contained the strongest defense of North Korea's status as a permanently nuclear-armed country he had seen.

"Implicit in Kim Jong Un's speech is a willingness to engage with others, including the United States, on the basis of their acceptance of the 'reality' of North Korea's permanent nuclear status. That's not a basis on which the United States is prepared to engage," he said.

Moon took office in May last year pledging to engage Pyongyang in dialogue and restore ties strained after nearly a decade of conservative rule in the South.

But North Korea has so far snubbed his overtures, including an offer to hold inter-Korean military talks about ceasing hostile activities along the border, as it tested missiles at an unprecedented pace.

Rather than encouraging US measures that "threaten the security and peace of the Korean peninsula," Seoul should instead respond to overtures from the North, and "stop nuclear war exercises with foreign forces," Kim said.

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