A new year brought a new message from North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

In his New Year address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un said he is ready to meet with US President Donald Trump anytime this year to reach a consensus on denuclearization but warned he may be forced to take a “new path” if Washington did not remove sanctions on North Korea.

The 35-year-old also stated denuclearization is his “firm will” and North Korea has declared at home and abroad that it will not produce and test nuclear weapons nor use or develop them.

However, Kim also warned he may change tactics if Washington continues to apply sanctions to the communist state.

Kim further said he would have “no option but to explore a new path in order to protect our sovereignty” if the United States “miscalculates our people’s patience, forces something upon us and pursues sanctions and pressure without keeping a promise it made in front of the world.”

What “a new path” means remains unclear and undefined. The term may refer to concessions that focus on a one-by-one commitment rather than complete denuclearization. The term raises some doubt about whether North Korea will totally stop its nuclear weapon program, which it considers vital for its security.

What Does Kim’s New Year’s Speech Reflect?

Kim’s New Year’s address stressed that North Korea had so far adhered to the Singapore agreement. But the speech may reflect how frustrated Kim is with working towards denuclearization.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at South Korea’s Sejong Institute stated: “His speech chiefly emphasized the need for a fair deal, and it’s extremely unlikely for them to go back.”

In his speech, Kim also called on other countries to put pressure on Washington, such as China and South Korea. However, some experts called multilateral talks unlikely given the China-US trade dispute and Trump’s rejection for multilateral options.

Will Washington Loosen Sanctions?

Kim said that North Korea has shown its commitment to taking steps toward denuclearization, but he urged the US to compromise by relaxing sanctions imposed on his country. Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, has demanded Washington remove sanctions and that the Korean War (1950-1953) officially end.

North Korea says it’s willing to dismantle its nuclear arsenals as long as the US eases sanctions. But US Special Envoy, Stephen Biegun, stressed that Washington is not planning to relax sanctions but is willing to help South Korea to ship flu medications to North Korea. Such cooperation may develop nuclear diplomacy.

In December 2018 Washington imposed more sanctions on three top North Korean officials following a report on human rights violations in the country. Pyongyang slammed the move, adding that the latest penalty may block the path toward denuclearization.

Trump’s Response

In response to the speech, Trump said he looks forward to having the second summit with the North Korean leader. “I also look forward to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!” tweeted Trump.

In a historic meeting in June 2018, both Trump and Kim committed to working toward denuclearization and building a long-lasting and stable peace. But both leaders’ determination has yet to produce significant progress.

Trump once said a second meeting with his North Korean counterpart this year may take place either in January or February. But last month he tweeted that he was in no rush and there has been no confirmed date so far about the next meeting.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang several times after the June 2018 meeting, but both the US and North Korea did not reschedule a meeting between Pompeo and North Korean high official Kim Yong Chol after a meeting was suddenly canceled in November 2018.

 

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