North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers a New Year address in Pyongyang in this picture released by the North's official KCNA news agency. Photo from Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called for an end to
confrontation between the two Koreas, technically still at
war in the absence of a peace treaty to end their 1950-53
conflict, in a surprise New Year's broadcast on state media.
The address by Kim, who took power in the reclusive state
after his father, Kim Jong-il, died in 2011, appeared to take
the place of the policy-setting New Year's editorial
published annually in the past in leading state newspapers.
But North Korea has offered olive branches before and Kim's
speech does not necessarily signify a change in tack from a
country which vilifies the United States and U.S. ally South
Korea at every chance.
Impoverished North Korea raised tensions in the region by
launching a long-range rocket in December it said was aimed
at putting a scientific satellite in orbit, drawing
North Korea, which considers the North and South one country,
the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is banned from
testing missile or nuclear technology under U.N. sanctions
imposed after its 2006 and 2009 nuclear weapons tests.
"An important issue in putting an end to the division of the
country and achieving its reunification is to remove
confrontation between the north and the south," Kim said in
an address that appeared to be pre-recorded.
"Past records of inter-Korean relations show that
confrontation between fellow countrymen leads to nothing but
war," he said, speaking from an undisclosed location.
The New Year's address was the first in 19 years by a North
Korean leader, following the death of Kim Il-sung, Kim
Jong-un's grandfather. Kim Jong-il rarely spoke in public and
disclosed his national policy agenda in editorials in state
May be linked to call for aid
Kim's statement "apparently contains a message that he has an
intention to dispel the current face-off (between the two
Koreas), which could eventually be linked with the North's
call for aid" from the South, said Kim Tae-woo, a North Korea
expert at the state-funded Korea Institute for National
"But such a move does not necessarily mean any substantive
change in the North Korean regime's policy towards the
There was no immediate reaction from Washington.
Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the conservative
Heritage Foundation in Washington, said, "Kim Jong-un's New
Year's message was different in format but not in content."
It offered further evidence the young leader is following in
the footsteps of his grandfather, rather than his father, he
While the younger Kim's public diplomacy resonates well with
the North Korean public, "the new North Korean leader's
impact on the outside world is undermined by North Korea's
continued provocations and bombastic rhetoric," Klingner
The two Koreas have seen tensions rise to the highest level
in decades after the North bombed a Southern island in 2010,
killing two civilians and two soldiers.
The sinking of a South Korean navy ship earlier that year was
blamed on the North but Pyongyang has denied it and accused
Seoul of waging a smear campaign against its leadership.
Last month, South Korea elected as president Park Geun-hye, a
conservative daughter of assassinated military ruler Park
Chung-hee, whom Kim Il-sung had tried to kill at the height
of their Cold War confrontation.
Park has vowed to pursue engagement with the North and called
for dialogue to build confidence but has demanded that
Pyongyang abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions, something it
is unlikely to do.
Conspicuously absent from Kim's speech was any mention of
North Korea's nuclear arms programme.