In a speech to a plenary session of the ruling Workers Party Central Committee, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says he no longer feels bound by a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing, which has held for the past two years. However, he stopped short of saying he was breaking off nuclear negotiations with the U.S., nor did he formally announce a shift to a more hard-line policy.
The official Korean Central News Agency carried Kim's remarks to the Party Plenum, which has been held in Pyongyang over the past four days (Saturday through Tuesday).
Kim had been expected to deliver a televised New Year's Day address, but state media had not aired a speech as of 4 p.m. local time (2 a.m. ET), leading to speculation that Kim had said all he wanted to say and was skipping this year's address.
KCNA quoted Kim as saying there was no reason to remain committed to his moratorium because the U.S. had not reciprocated, but had continued to hold joint military drills with South Korea and send advanced weapons to the South.
"This is chilling our efforts for worldwide nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation," Kim added.
The U.S. has scaled back military exercises with Seoul in hopes of facilitating diplomacy. It has also sold advanced F-35A fighter jets to South Korea.
Kim threatened to take unspecified "shocking action," adding that "the world will witness a new strategic weapon" which North Korea will soon have.
Kim also accused the U.S. of playing for time by drawing out nuclear negotiations, while maintaining sanctions and hostile policies "to completely strangle and stifle" North Korea. "This is the double-dealing behavior of the brigandish U.S.," Kim commented.
U.S. proceeds cautiously
President Trump has repeatedly touted North Korea's testing moratorium as a diplomatic victory. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped Pyongyang would continue down a peaceful, diplomatic path.
"If Chairman Kim has reneged on the commitments he made to President Trump, that is deeply disappointing," Pompeo said Tuesday in an interview with CBS News.
"He made those commitments to President Trump in exchange for President Trump agreeing not to conduct large-scale military exercises," Pompeo added. "We've lived up to our commitments. We continue to hold out hope that he'll live up to his as well."
Washington has rejected Kim's assertions that it is dithering on negotiations. Dep. Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, who also serves as Special Representative for North Korea, recently insisted that the U.S. has put forth creative suggestions on how to proceed with diplomacy, but that North Korea has not responded positively.
Over the past year, Kim Jong Un and his officials have threatened to follow a "new way," building up North Korea's nuclear deterrent, giving up on negotiations with the U.S. and relying more on China and Russia for economic and diplomatic support.
In the past year Kim took two staged horseback rides on snowy Mt. Paektu, the sacred North Korean mountain said to be the birthplace of his father, Kim Jong Il. And the just-concluded four-day Party Plenum was unprecedented in his eight-year rule. Both gestures gave the impression that Kim is considering a strategic change of direction for the country.
Without explicitly calling for a formal shift, Kim suggested that he would seize the initiative and not wait for the situation to turn favorable.
"We should never dream that the U.S. and the hostile forces would leave us alone to live in peace, but we should make frontal breakthrough with the might of self-reliance," he told the Plenum.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Two years of diplomacy between the presidents of the U.S. and North Korea produced one large substantive success from the U.S. point of view. During the period that President Trump has been meeting, exchanging letters with and constantly flattering Kim Jong Un, North Korea has kept a promise not to test nuclear weapons or long-range missiles. Now Kim says that's over. In a speech to the ruling Workers' Party Central Committee, Kim says North Korea no longer feels bound by that promise. He is disappointed that talks produced no long-term agreement with the U.S.
NPR's Anthony Kuhn has been following this story for years. He joins us from Seoul. Hey there, Anthony.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: And happy new year. What does Kim say his country's going to do now?
KUHN: Well, in his typical dramatic fashion, he said that the North will take shocking action and will introduce a new strategic weapon soon, which he did not identify. But it was very clear that he was not breaking off negotiations with the U.S. Now, let's hear what North Korean people heard from their state television broadcaster.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED TV ANCHOR: (Speaking Korean).
KUHN: OK, so in that clip, a TV anchor is quoting Kim, saying that North Korea instituted this moratorium on nuclear and missile testing unilaterally over the past two years. The U.S. did not respond positively. Instead, it kept on having military drills with South Korea, shipping them advanced weapons. And so there's really no point in North Korea sticking unilaterally to that commitment any longer. And Kim said that the U.S. was chilling North Korean efforts for worldwide nuclear disarmament - not stopping, but chilling.
He also didn't say they were going to resume testing right away. He said on several occasions, they're going to attempt a frontal breakthrough - in other words, defeat U.S. attempts to isolate them and sanction them into submission. And he said that the U.S. is basically now just stalling on negotiations while keeping hostile policies in place.
INSKEEP: You know, it sounds like Kim could've done a lot more than he did. There were a lot of people in the U.S. expecting an actual missile test, for example. That hasn't happened yet. But this is a change from what he's been saying, right?
KUHN: It's a change. I really don't think it's a break from last year's policies. He'd been building up with all these political theatrics - riding white horses and holding these long party meetings - suggesting that he was coming to a critical juncture where he was going to make a strategic choice. Clearly, we're going to see a more hard-line policy in the next year, but he's also leaving the door open for concessions by the U.S., I think.
INSKEEP: How is the U.S. responding?
KUHN: Well, President Trump said to reporters at a New Year's Eve party that he thinks Kim is still a man of his word. Let's hear what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He did sign an agreement talking about denuclearization. And that was signed. No. 1 sentence - denuclearization. That was done in Singapore. And I think he's a man of his word. So we're going to find out, but I think he's a man of his word.
KUHN: Now, of course, the declaration that Trump and Kim signed in Singapore did talk about working towards denuclearization but said nothing about what that actually means, how they're going to do it or when. Pyongyang now insists that the ball is in Washington's court, hence, you know, what they get as their Christmas present depends on their attitude. They say that Washington has presented the North with proposals for moving ahead, but they haven't made any of those public.
INSKEEP: Anthony, thanks so much.
KUHN: You bet, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn reporting today from Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.