North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had no time for platitudes in his new year’s speech. His message to the United States was clear: Don’t mess with me.
“The United States can never fight a war against me and our state,” Kim said, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. “It should properly know that the whole territory of the U.S. is within the range of our nuclear strike and a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office and this is just a reality, not a threat.”
Kim didn’t stop there. According to NBC News, Kim said his new year plan is to mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment. Of course, these weapons would only be used if North Korean society was “threatened,” he clarified.
American president Donald Trump was nonplussed by Kim’s speech. Trump was at the New Year’s Eve celebration at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida when reporters asked for his reaction to Kim’s speech. “We’ll see, we’ll see,” he said, according to the BBC.
Kim’s provocative stance towards the US was tempered by a softening towards South Korea. He wished South Korea success in hosting the winter Olympics in Pyeongchang next month, while saying that his country’s representatives should begin talks with their South Korean counterparts about sending a team to the games “as soon as possible,” according to CNN. North Korea-watchers CNN interviewed deemed the conciliatory tone unusual, particularly since Kim has not significantly engaged with the south to date.
Few North Korea experts believe Kim will decelerate his weapons testing this year. It launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) last year. As for Kim’s threats—it’s unclear whether he’s bluffing about his ability to successfully fire an ICBM that won’t disintegrate upon re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.
Whatever the truth of North Korea’s weapons arsenal, one thing is clear: This year, something will have to give in the complicated relationships between North and South Korea, the US, and China.