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Kim Jong Un Says North Korea No Longer Bound By Testing Moratorium

In this undated photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes a symbolic visit to Mt. Paektu in the country's north.
Korean Central News Agency via NK News
In this undated photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes a symbolic visit to Mt. Paektu in the country's north.

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.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.