North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has warned the United States that the nuclear button is always on his desk.
“The entire mainland of the US is within the range of our nuclear weapons and the nuclear button is always on the desk of my office. They should accurately be aware that this is not a threat but a reality,” said Kim during his annual New Year’s Day address, according to a CNN translation of the speech.
He also declared that his country is “a responsible nuclear nation that loves peace” and said that as long as there’s no aggression directed at it, “we do not intend to use nuclear powers.”
Despite the more conciliatory tone of the speech, Kim called on his country to accelerate production of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.
“As for the areas of nuclear weapons research and rocket engineering, we need to accelerate the mass production of nuclear warheads, whose power and reliability have already been secured, and ballistic missiles,” Kim said, adding that the country also needed to be ready “to retaliate against the enemy’s move for a nuclear war.”
Euan Graham, the director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute, told CNN that Kim’s comment about the nuclear button “is effectively just noise.”
“It doesn’t say anything we haven’t heard before — it’s just his [Kim’s] way of assuring everybody that he is the one in charge and in control. It’s almost like a declaration of victory, they’re over the finish line as far they’re concerned, they’re trying to message the US that they’ve got what it takes to deter them — they have a functioning ICBM, which may not be technically accurate, but nonetheless, that’s the way he’s [Kim’s] trying to spin it at this stage,” Graham said.
Tension has been rising between the United States and North Korea in recent months. Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that the United States is “closer to a nuclear war with North Korea” than ever.
In an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Mullen warned that President Donald Trump’s provocative rhetoric aimed at Kim Jong Un likely indicates he would prefer to take a more aggressive approach to countering the rogue regime’s rapidly evolving nuclear weapons program.
Last week, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted new sanctions on North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s November 29 ballistic missile test, seeking to further strangle its energy supplies and tighten restrictions on smuggling and the use of North Korean workers overseas.
North Korea’s state-run news agency KCNA released a report Saturday promising that the country would remain committed to its nuclear development in 2018.
“Do not expect any change in its policy,” the report read.
“Its entity as an invincible power can neither be undermined nor be stamped out. The DPRK, as a responsible nuclear weapons state, will lead the trend of history to the only road of independence and justice, weathering all tempests on this planet,” the report continued, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Joint military exercises
In early December, the US carried out another round of military exercises with South Korea, involving the largest concentration of fifth-generation F-22s and F-35s fighter jets ever assembled in South Korea.
The war games included attacks against a mock North Korean missile launch site with mock North Korean radars.
In his New Year’s address, Kim again denounced the exercises.
“These military exercises that you have with our enemy the USA must be halted at this very moment, because this behavior only causes fire and destruction on this great country,” the North Korean leader said, apparently addressing South Korea.
But he also seemed to sound a conciliatory note toward South Korea, saying his country genuinely wishes “for peaceful resolution with our southern border.”
“North and South must work together to alleviate the tensions and work together as a people of the same heritage to find peace and stability,” Kim said.
The 2018 Winter Olympics
He even spoke about the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea, saying his country can meet with South Korean officials “as soon as possible” to discuss the possibility of sending a delegation to the games. Kim wished South Korea success in hosting the 2018 Olympics and said the event would be a “good chance” to show the greatness of the Korean people.
Graham called the softened tone toward South Korea a surprise.
“The olive branch of trying to reach out to the South, that’s the most significant change, because up until now, they just haven’t shown any interest in engaging with the South, or anyone else for that matter,” he said. “But an olive branch is always wrapped in some sort of belligerent coating in North Korea — it doesn’t mean the end of the nuclear program. … Even if they do reach out and send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they accompanied that with a continuing testing program as the spring comes, be that a submarine launch or satellite launch.”