SEOUL • Mr Kim Jong Un has warned the United States that he has a "nuclear button" on his desk ready for use if North Korea is threatened, but offered an olive branch to South Korea, saying he was "open to dialogue" with Seoul.
After a year dominated by fiery rhetoric and escalating tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, Mr Kim used his televised New Year's Day speech to declare North Korea "a peace-loving and responsible nuclear power".
He also called for less military tensions on the Korean peninsula and improved ties with the South.
"When it comes to North-South relations, we should lower the military tensions on the Korean peninsula to create a peaceful environment," Mr Kim said yesterday.
"Both the North and the South should make efforts."
Mr Kim said he will consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympic Games to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next month. The offer was welcomed by the South.
"We have always stated our willingness to talk with North Korea any time and anywhere if that would help restore inter-Korean relations and lead to peace on the Korean peninsula," a spokesman for the presidential Blue House said.
READY TO STRIKE
The whole territory of the US 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.
NORTH KOREAN LEADER KIM JONG UN
South Korean President Moon Jae In has said North Korea's participation will ensure safety of the PyeongChang Olympics, and proposed last month that Seoul and Washington postpone large military drills - which the North denounces as a rehearsal for war - until after the Games.
Mr Moon took office in May last year, pledging to engage Pyongyang in dialogue and restore strained ties, after nearly a decade of conservative rule in the South.
But North Korea has so far snubbed his overtures for warmer ties, including an offer to hold inter-Korean military talks about ceasing hostile activities along the border, as it tested missiles at an unprecedented pace and lambasted joint military drills between Seoul and Washington.
Rather than encouraging US measures that "threaten the security and peace of the Korean peninsula", Seoul should instead respond to overtures from the North, and "stop nuclear war exercises with foreign forces", Mr Kim said.
Asked by reporters to comment on Mr Kim's speech, US President Donald Trump simply said "we'll see, we'll see", as he walked into a New Year's Eve celebration at Mar-a-Lago, his elite resort in Florida.
North Korea tested intercontinental ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September last year in defiance of international warnings and sanctions, raising fears of a new conflict on the Korean peninsula.
After testing what Pyongyang said was its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of delivering a warhead to anywhere in the continental US, at the end of November, Mr Kim declared his nuclear force complete.
He continued that theme in his New Year's address, announcing that North Korea would focus on "mass producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment" in the coming year. This, Mr Kim said, was "irreversible with any force", making it impossible for the US to start a war against North Korea.
"The whole territory of the US 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," he said, while emphasising that the weapons would be used only if North Korea is threatened.
Mr Kim's customary New Year's speech is closely watched for indications of the policy direction the unpredictable and reclusive leader is likely to pursue in the coming year.
Mr Nam Sung Wook, a North Korea expert at Korea University in Seoul, said Mr Kim seems likely to tone down his weapons testing, at least ahead of the Olympics.
"What North Korea is most afraid of is being forgotten in the international arena," he said.
"Without launching missiles and conducting a nuclear test, North Korea will be in the spotlight just by attending the Winter Olympics."