North Korean Leader Addresses Policy Issues In New Year's Address
(SOUNDBITE OF SOLAR HEAVY'S "CATCHING COMETS")
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, says he is ready to meet with President Trump at any time. He made that offer in a televised New Year's address. He also recommitted himself to abandoning nuclear weapons but only if the U.S. sticks to its promises. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us now from Seoul to talk about what all this could mean. Good morning, Anthony. Happy New Year.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Happy New Year, Rachel.
MARTIN: So after the Singapore summit last year, when President Trump met face to face with Kim Jong Un. Trump says, quote, "We are ready to write a new chapter between our nations." So in light of this address from Kim Jong Un, are you seeing any evidence of a new chapter?
KUHN: No. The speech was pretty much what analysts expected. And it didn't leave much room for optimism that the current stalemate over the nuclear issue is going to be broken soon. Kim said in his speech that he's serious about improving relations with the U.S. and completely denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. But he also - you know, he continued the North Korean line, which for months has been, look. We've made gestures to the U.S., such as dismantling nuclear and missile test sites. And now it's up to the U.S. It's the U.S.'s turn to reciprocate by easing sanctions or giving some sort of security guarantee. Let's hear a clip of Kim speaking today.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
LEADER KIM JONG UN: (Speaking Korean).
KUHN: "If the U.S. fails to keep the promises it made before the world," he says, "if it misjudges the patience of our people and continues to use sanctions and pressure against our republic, then we'll have no choice except to seek a new path to secure the sovereignty and interests of our country."
And he did not say, Rachel, exactly what this new path is. But he did describe the old path as one of the most hostile relations in the world between the U.S. and North Korea and has suggested that he might go back to that. Also, we noted that he was speaking from a very plushly upholstered sofa in a wood-paneled office. And, clearly, this appeared to make him look like a - calculated to make him look like a mature statesman rather than a dictator.
MARTIN: So what exactly does he want right now, Kim Jong Un?
KUHN: Well, you remember from the summit in Singapore that they reached the vaguest of deals and that the U.S. and North Korea have completely different understandings of denuclearization. And the - North Korea has stuck to their definition, which is that they expect the U.S. to remove the U.S. nuclear umbrella that protects South Korea and Japan. And from the U.S. side, that's not on the negotiating table. And today, Kim added on. He said, we want to see an end to U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises that President Trump suspended after the summit.
MARTIN: I want to pivot to the South because the U.S. and South Korea were supposed to strike this new deal about the price of keeping U.S. military footprint in South Korea. And they were supposed to agree to this by New Year's Eve. They didn't. So now what?
KUHN: Well, the U.S. is asking for all its allies to cough up more money. South Korean media report that the U.S. is looking for a 50 percent increase. And South Korea says no to that. Seoul was not happy about the U.S. pullout from Syria and the resignation of Mattis. And they point out, look. If you pull out of South Korea, you're not just undermining our defense. You're undermining the entire U.S. military posture in Asia.
MARTIN: NPR's Anthony Kuhn from Seoul. Thanks so much, Anthony.
KUHN: You bet, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.