By Joyce Lee
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country needs to deliver a “telling blow” to those imposing sanctions by ensuring its economy is more self-reliant, state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Thursday.
It was the first time Kim stated North Korea’s position on the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi that collapsed in February, and signalled a continued focus on economic development, a strategic direction officially declared a priority last April.
On North Korea’s position on the summit, Kim said he would double down on efforts to create a self-supporting national economy “so as to deal a telling blow to the hostile forces who go with bloodshot eyes miscalculating that sanctions can bring (North Korea) to its knees,” according to KCNA.
U.S.-North Korean engagement has appeared to be in limbo since the Feb. 27-28 summit in Hanoi, which collapsed over differences about how far North Korea was willing to limit its nuclear programme and the degree of U.S. willingness to ease economic sanctions.
Kim has continued to highlight his economic push in recent weeks despite the lack of sanctions relief.
State media have published images and reports of Kim’s visits to at least four economic projects in five days over the past week, including a remodelled department store, tourist resorts, and an economic hub near the border with China.
At a similar plenary session last year, Kim formally announced a “new strategic line” that focused on economic progress and improving North Koreans’ lives, rather than the previous two-pronged approach of economic and nuclear weapons development.
North Korea is expected to convene a session of its rubber-stamp legislature, the Supreme People’s Assembly, on Thursday.
In its Wednesday meeting, the ruling party also elevated Choe Son Hui, one of North Korea’s leading negotiators with the United States, to a position as member of the party’s Central Committee.
Despite not explicitly naming the “hostile forces” that imposed sanctions, Kim is displaying a more hardened stance towards Washington than was recently in state media, analysts said.
The comments were reported hours ahead of a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Washington on Thursday to discuss North Korea and other alliance issues.
Moon has suggested that sanctions could be eased to allow inter-Korean economic engagement in return for some nuclear concessions by North Korea, but so far Washington has not agreed.
“It did not directly mention the U.S., but linked sanctions with hostile forces,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. “He’s saying North Korea would take an independent course unless the U.S. offered to lift sanctions. You maintain sanctions, you’re a hostile force; if you ease sanctions, you’re not.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a congressional committee on Wednesday that he would like to leave “a little room” in the sanctions in case North Korea makes “substantial” progress towards giving up its nuclear weapons.
In Hanoi, Kim sought relief from major U.N. sanctions, but Pompeo said those must stay in effect until North Korea completely denuclearises.
“The enforcement regime, the core U.N. Security Council resolutions, need to remain in place until the verification of denuclearisation has been completed,” he said.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Josh Smith; Editing by Leslie Adler, Kim Coghill and Michael Perry)