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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Monday, April 23, 2018

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War or peace? North Korea gives U.S. two options in 2018

North Korean leader boasted about a nuclear launch button

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PYONGYANG, North Korea - Beginning the New Year with the warning that it wouldn’t give up its nuclear program, the North Korean leader boasted about a nuclear launch button being “always on my table,” in his speech.

In the televised new year speech, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un issued a threat and also extended an olive branch, while warning the U.S. it will never be able to start a war.

Kim Jong Un said the entire U.S. was within range of North Korean nuclear weapons, adding, "This is reality, not a threat."

At the same time, he also offered a potential olive branch to South Korea, suggesting he was "open to dialogue.”

He added that North Korea may also send a team to the Winter Olympics in Seoul.

In his speech, Kim Jong Un re-emphasised his focus on the weapons programme, but implied the country still has a few stages left to go before achieving its ambitions. 

He said, North Korea must "mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles and speed up their deployment.”

He added that they would not use their weapons unless they felt that peace was threatened.

While the North Korean leader spoke tough on the U.S., he did not employ his typically antagonistic tone when speaking about his country’s neighbor and long time rival, South Korea.

Responding to the threats made by the North Korean leader, the U.S. President Donald Trump merely said at the sidelines of his New Year's Eve celebrations at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, "We'll see, we'll see.” 

Meanwhile, Kim Jong Un said, “The year 2018 is a significant year for both the North and the South, with the North marking the 70th anniversary of its birth and the South hosting the Winter Olympics. We should melt the frozen North-South relations, thus adorning this meaningful year as a year to be specially recorded in the history of the nation.”

Commenting on whether North Korea will go to the Olympics, Jong Un said he would consider sending a delegation to the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.

This would be a gesture that South Korea has previously suggested would be welcome.

Jong Un said, “North Korea's participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to show unity of the people and we wish the Games will be a success. Officials from the two Koreas may urgently meet to discuss the possibility."

In reaction to Kim Jong Un’s speech, a spokesperson for the South Korean president said their office had "always stated our willingness to talk with North Korea at anytime and anywhere.”

Adding, “We hope the two Koreas will sit down and find a solution to lower tensions and establish peace on the Korean peninsula."

According to Youngshik Daniel Bong, a research fellow at Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies, addressing the South was a marked change from the norm for Kim Jong Un.

Bong said, ”North Korea usually ignores South Korea, maintaining the position that as a 'nuclear power' it will deal with the US on its own. It appears that by engaging the South, he hopes to create an estrangement between South Korea and the U.S."

According to the analyst, Kim Jong Un could be seeking to improve ties to offer some respite from the growing economic pressures from the recent UN sanctions.

Further, South Korea's news agency Yonhap quoted the president of the PyeongChang Games' organising committee, Lee Hee-beom as saying, he was delighted to hear of the potential participation.

He said, “[The committee] enthusiastically welcomes it. It's like a New Year's gift.”

Last month, South Korea's President Moon Jae In suggested that delaying an annual joint military drill with U.S. troops until after the Games. 

The North usually denounces any such exercises as a rehearsal for war.

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