North Korea's Kim calling for detente
SEOUL - In a domestically televised New Year's Day speech, North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un said he wanted to "remove confrontation" on this divided peninsula and called on "anti-reunification forces" in South Korea to cease their hostility toward the North.
The lengthy address, which laid out the national goals for 2013, marked Kim Jong Un's first formal remarks since the election two weeks ago of Park Geun-hye as South Korea's next president.
Kim on Tuesday 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 off 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'll resume humanitarian exchanges and small-scale economic projects with the North - efforts that were shuttered under outgoing hard-liner 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 Jong Un 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.
The previous Jan. 1 speech was given by North Korean founder Kim Il Sung in 1994, months before his death.
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" but gave no clear sign that the government would change its spending priorities - its military and weapons program.
Kim portrayed a successful satellite launch last month as an inspiration that would rally citizens to work harder for the economy. Washington and its allies say the launch was a de facto intercontinental ballistic missile test that defied United Nations security resolutions.
"Let us bring about a radical turn in the building of an economic giant with the same spirit and mettle as were displayed in conquering space," Kim said, describing what he said was the Workers' Party slogan for 2013.
In his speech, Kim made no mention of the United States or of the country's nuclear weapons program.