Kim Jong-un says ‘nuclear button is on my desk’, as he announces plan to mass produce and deploy warheads
But Kim also sugared his speech with a conciliatory tone towards Seoul, saying the North was considering taking part in the South’s Winter Olympics
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said Monday that the United States should be aware that his country’s nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year’s address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in South Korea in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate.
Kim, wearing a Western-style grey suit and tie, said in his customary annual address that his country had achieved the historic feat of “completing” its nuclear forces and added that he has a nuclear button on his desk.
“We must mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles and speed up their deployment,” said Kim, insisting the weapons programme was a defensive measure. “We should always keep readiness to take immediate nuclear counter-attacks against the enemy’s scheme for a nuclear war.
“The US should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table. The entire area of the US mainland is within our nuclear strike range … The United States can never start a war against me and our country.”
Pyongyang dramatically ramped up its efforts to become a nuclear power in 2017, despite a raft of international sanctions and increasingly bellicose rhetoric from the United States.
US President Donald Trump has responded to each test with his own amplified declarations, threatening to “totally destroy” Pyongyang and taunting Kim, saying the North Korean leader was on “a suicide mission”.
But far from persuading Kim to give up his nuclear drive, analysts say Trump’s tough talk may have prompted the North Korean leader to push through with his dangerous quest.
Kim also called for improved relations with the South, saying the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics would be a good opportunity to showcase the country’s status.
He also said the two Koreas could meet urgently to discuss the North sending a delegation.
“The Winter Olympic Games that will be held soon in the South will be a good opportunity to display the status of the Korean nation and we sincerely wish that the event will be held with good results,” he said.
South Korea’s presidential office said it welcomed the proposal to hold talks between government officials over the issue of North Korea sending a delegation to the Olympics. The office of President Moon Jae-in said the successful hosting of the Pyeongchang Olympics would contribute to peace and harmony not only on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, but in the entire world.
Watch: nuclear tests over the Pacific?
The new year’s address is an annual event in North Korea and is watched closely for indications of the direction and priorities Kim may adopt in the year ahead.
This year’s speech was seen as particularly important because of the high tensions over Pyongyang’s frequent missile launches and its nuclear test in 2017. The tests were the focus of fiery verbal exchanges between North Korea and President Donald Trump, who has derisively called Kim “little rocket man.”
Kim also stressed North Korea’s economic achievements during the speech, and noted the importance of improving the nation’s standard of living.
Kim’s comments came after a former top US military officer warned that the Trump presidency had helped create “an incredibly dangerous climate”.
When asked for a response to Kim’s claim that he had a nuclear button on his desk, Trump said “We’ll see, we’ll see”, in comments to reporters during the New Year’s Eve party at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press