North Korea could consider change of tack, Kim warns

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk after lunch at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore

"If the USA fails to carry out its promise to the world ... and remains unchanged in its sanctions and pressure upon the DPRK", Kim said, using the acronym for the North's formal name, "we might be compelled to explore a new path for defending the sovereignty of our country and supreme interests of our state".

"Kim Jong Un simply reaffirmed what we already know: that North Korea considers progress on denuclearization conditional on Washington providing sanctions relief", said Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department official who worked on North Korean issues.

Kim said he was willing to meet Trump again at any time "to produce results welcomed by the global community".

On the other hand, Kim reminded his audience that he and Trump had agreed to proceed toward the "complete denuclearization" of the peninsula, and he said that remained the "unchangeable stance" of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

He also called for an end to joint military drills between the US and South Korea and said no strategic military assets should be brought onto the Korean peninsula.

The address, broadcast at 9 a.m. local time on North Korea's state-run television network, was Kim's seventh since taking power following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011.

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There are also plans for Kim Jong-un to travel to the South's capital Seoul for another inter-Korean summit but again, those plans have not been confirmed yet. "The challenge, however, is will Team Trump be willing to back away from its position of zero sanctions relief?" said Harry Kazianis at the Washington-based Centre for the National Interest.

But while Kim Jong Un says he wants to continue along the diplomatic path, the clear hint is that without some response from the United States, the rapprochement witnessed previous year may go into reverse.

North Korea is subject to various sets of United Nations Security Council sanctions related to its banned nuclear and ballistic missile weapons programmes.

Kim's speech also points toward a hard year for the U.S. These are the Gaeseong industrial park in North Korea, where South Korean factories use North Korean labor, and the Mount Geumgang resort in North Korea.

But with Kim highlighting the need to turn further attention to economic prosperity in his speech, North Korea is also likely to continue to bring up such economic projects as a main agenda - even more than it did a year ago.

In the speech, Kim hailed the results of the North's diplomatic activities in 2018, including his three meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

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"Chairman Kim's firm commitment is expected to have a positive effect on resolving the Korean Peninsula issue smoothly in the new year", Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said.

But while South and North Korea have continued to mend their relations over the past year, denuclearisation negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington appear to have stalled.

As the USA is unlikely to back down, analysts said it is up to South Korean President Moon Jae-in - who is due to welcome Mr Kim to Seoul early this year for their fourth summit - to mediate.

"There are views that North Korea wants a quick second summit because it thinks it can win major concessions from Trump that they probably couldn't from lower-level USA officials, who are more adamant about the North committing to inspections and verification", the New York Post observed.

Mr Kim also met three times with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which boosted his leverage by reintroducing Beijing - Pyongyang's main ally - as a major player in the diplomatic process to resolve the nuclear standoff. The North used a blunt statement last month to reiterate its traditional stance on denuclearization, saying it will never unilaterally give up its weapons unless Washington removes what Pyongyang describes as a nuclear threat.

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