SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 1 (UPI) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has offered a potential olive branch to South Korea while warning the United States that he has a “nuclear launch button” on his desk.
Kim gave a customary New Year’s Day speech on North Korea’s state-run broadcast channel, calling for dialogue between the two Koreas to improve ties and reduce military tensions on the peninsula.
Both Koreas must work together for peace and stability “as a people of the same heritage,” he said.
Kim also suggested immediate dialogue with Seoul to arrange North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics held in the South’s alpine city of Pyeongchang next month.
“We are ready to take various steps, including the dispatch of the delegation,” Kim said Monday.
He added that he hopes the South will successfully host the Olympics and that it could be a chance to show the greatness of the Korean people to the world.
South Korea’s presidential office on Monday said it welcomed Kim Jong Un’s interest in participating in the Olympics as well as the prospect of holding inter-Korean talks.
Presidential spokesman Park Soo Hyun said the top office has always been willing to talk with Pyongyang regardless of time or place for the purpose of improving inter-Korean relations or seeking peace on the Korean Peninsula.
On the flip side of his speech, the North Korean leader reissued the threat that the entire United States mainland is within the range of Pyongyang’s nuclear strike.
“The U.S. should be aware that the North’s nuclear force is a reality, not a threat,” Kim said.
The North first claimed it had the technology to target the U.S. mainland after the launch of its Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile on November 29. It also declared to have reached full nuclear capability.
Kim called for the mass production and swift deployment of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles in 2018, as a means of deterrence against America’s “scheme for a nuclear war.”
The leader emphasized that the North would be seeking weapons development as a “peace-loving and responsible nuclear state.”
“The North expressed its confidence of having the nuclear force to deter the U.S. based on its claim to have achieved full nuclear capacity. It did not specifically imply there would be further provocations but it seems the regime will continue to enhance its nuclear capabilities,” South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Monday.
Amid heightening tensions with Washington, observers believe the North is reaching out to South Korea, in a bid to “seek a way out” of economic hardship caused by international sanctions.
Following Pyongyang’s continuous nuclear and missile test launches last year, the United Nations Security Council toughened sanctions on the regime, targeting 89 percent of refined petroleum products sold to North Korea as well as the regime’s financial assets and sources of foreign currency.
Kim reaffirmed North Korea’s Byungjin Line policy which simultaneously pursues the development of nuclear weapons and the national economy.
“(The leadership) is likely to strengthen its control and censorship over society aimed to revive the regime’s morale in order to achieve various tasks that have been outlined,” the Unification Ministry said.