Saturday, January 20, 2018

North Korea's new leader says he wants peace with South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — In a domestically televised New Year's Day speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong Eun said he wanted to "remove confrontation" on this divided peninsula and called on "antireunification forces" in South Korea to cease their hostility toward the North.

The lengthy address, which laid out the national goals for 2013, marked Kim's first formal remarks since the election two weeks ago of Park Geun Hye as South Korea's next president.

Kim asked for a detente — but with prerequisites that the conservative Park will be reluctant to agree to. To promote inter-Korean relations and hasten unification, Kim said, both sides must implement joint agreements signed years ago by liberal, pro-engagement presidents in Seoul.

Those agreements call for, among other things, economic cooperation between the countries, high-level government dialogue and the creation of a special "cooperation" zone in the Yellow Sea, where the North and South spar over a maritime border.

Park, who takes office next month, has said she will resume humanitarian exchanges and small-scale economic projects with the North — efforts that were shuttered under outgoing hard-line President Lee Myung Bak. But Park promises to hold off on major economic cooperation unless the North disassembles its nuclear weapons program, something Pyongyang says it will never do.

With the speech, Kim reinforced his image as a far more outgoing leader than his father, Kim Jong Il, who ruled for 17 years and addressed North Korean citizens only once — with a seconds-long exhortation at a military parade. During Kim Jong Il's tenure, the New Year's message was delivered in a lengthy editorial carried by the state-run newspapers.

Whether spoken or written, the New Year's messages are scrutinized by outside analysts for hints about the policymaking of the family-run police state. Kim's speech Tuesday emphasized many of themes typical in the country's daily propaganda: He spoke about economic improvement, but made no mention of the country's current destitution and food problems. He called for a "dynamic struggle to boost production at the modern factories and production bases."

He made no mention of the United States or of the country's nuclear weapons program.

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