In a New Year’s Day address, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un delivered characteristically aggressive rhetoric toward the United States, but in a diplomatic shift, seemed to open the door for the possibility of engaging South Korea in a dialogue.
The entire mainland of the US is within the range of our nuclear weapons and the nuclear button is always on the desk of my office. They should accurately be aware that this is not a threat but a reality,” Kim said in a bit of diplomatic theater that’s characteristic of Kim’s usual approach to U.S. relations.
“No matter how much America wants to attack us with their military might and nuclear power, they know that now we possess such great nuclear power and therefore they will not dare.”
However, Kim tempered his aggressive rhetoric with what could be the first overture toward a diplomatic resolution to heightening tensions in the region. A new round of sanctions ratified by the United Nations Security Council last month, as well as an increasing crack down on oil-carrying vessels violating said sanctions, are said to be the most severe yet. Some have argued that they may be sufficient to force Kim to the negotiating table, but even if so, it seems unlikely that Kim would come to the villain in his propaganda, the United States, in order to engage in such a dialogue.
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.”
The Supreme Leader even went so far as to suggest that North Korea could participate in the forthcoming Olympic Games, set to take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea this February. Safety concerns about North Korean aggression during the Olympic Games have prompted some diplomats, including U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, to question their nation’s participation.
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’s Blue House, comparable to America’s White House, issued a statement following Kim’s address clearly indicating their willingness to engage in talks with North Korea’s leader, a sentiment they have expressed repeatedly since South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office last May.
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.”
Of course, despite North Korea’s apparent shift toward the possibility of engaging with South Korean officials, they have made no gesture that would indicate a willingness to denuclearize. Kim Jong Un’s seemingly peaceful rhetoric would likely be considered inconsequential if delivered by the leader of another diplomatic (and potentially military) rival. As much as Kim’s speech may seem like progress, his New Year’s address truly offered only small portions of the basic civil discourse expected of world leaders, tempered with nuclear threats toward the United States. The speech may be a move in the right direction if war is to be avoided, but it was, in the end, a very small one.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press