Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his resolve to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons programmes, but his TV address contained a clear warning to Washington.
North Korea’s leader has said he is committed to denuclearisation, but his New Year message came laced with a warning to the United States.
Kim Jong Un said Washington should stop breaking promises and lift sanctions – or Pyongyang may change path.
His televised address came at the end of a year which saw a historic summit with Donald Trump in Singapore in June.
It was an occasion the communist leader says he would be keen to repeat: "I am ready to meet with the US president again at any time and will make efforts to surely create outcomes welcomed by the international community,” Kim said.
"However, if the United States continues to break its promises and misjudges our patience by unilaterally demanding certain things and pushes ahead with sanctions and pressure against our republic, then we may have to seek another way to protect our country's sovereignty and interest and establish peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," he added.
Yes to denuclearisation – but on Kim’s terms
Pyongyang celebrated New Year with spectacular fireworks, and with New Year’s Day a public holiday people have been out and about in the North Korean capital. They will have been able to see their leader’s speech via large screens.
The fact that Kim Jong Un’s renewed commitment to denuclearisation was made not just to the outside world, but to millions of ordinary North Koreans, is seen as significant.
However, there was a clear warning that the country is not ready to disarm unilaterally. Kim has pledged that North Korea will not make or use nuclear weapons, and the initial détente process saw the dismantling of the only known testing site and a missile engine facility.
The North Korean leader called on South Korea to “completely stop” joint military drills with the United States, while remaining keen for dialogue and multilateral negotiations to continue. Washington stopped some large-scale exercises with Seoul, although smaller drills continued.
Sanctions are hurting
A key theme in Kim’s address was the economy – it made up the bulk of his speech – and the impact of sanctions. Various UN sanctions relating to Pyongyang’s banned weapons programme are in force, bringing a huge impact on the impoverished country.
But while Kim wants the punitive measures lifted, Washington has been sceptical of the denuclearisation process – while satellite images have indicated renewed nuclear activity.
Although there were no specifics behind the warning that North Korea may “seek another way” unless the US makes a move, it’s thought it could mean renewed missile testing.
Relations between Washington and Pyongyang have come a long way since the two leaders’ exchanges of threats and insults in 2017, against a background of provocative missile tests by North Korea.
But while Kim Jong Un says he wants to continue along the diplomatic path, the clear hint is that without some response from the United States, the rapprochement witnessed last year may go into reverse.