SEOUL • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set to make a closely watched New Year address today which is likely to offer a glimpse of a "new path" he has vowed to take if the United States fails to meet his deadline to soften its stance over denuclearisation.
The New Year address is expected to touch upon a wide range of issues from foreign affairs and military development to the economy and education.
In his 2019 New Year speech, Mr Kim said he might have to change course if Washington stuck to its pressure campaign and demanded unilateral action, while stressing a "self-reliant" economy, a drive that he launched amid tightening sanctions.
The US was on track to ignore a year-end deadline set by Mr Kim, which Washington has downplayed as artificial, to show more flexibility to reopen talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.
The upcoming speech is expected to be the culmination of a meeting of the ruling Workers' Party's 7th Central Committee, a key policymaking body, which Mr Kim convened last Saturday. It was still under way yesterday.
The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) yesterday said Mr Kim spent seven hours during a Monday session discussing state, economic and military building.
He also called for preparing active and "offensive political, diplomatic and military countermeasures for firmly preserving the sovereignty and security of the country", KCNA said.
"The Central Committee plenary meeting is meant to legitimise the process behind the policy decisions Kim Jong Un will announce in his New Year speech," said Professor Leif-Eric Easley at Seoul's Ewha Womans University. "This meeting is to provide political justification for the economic and security policies Pyongyang will pursue in 2020," he added.
North Korea has provided few hints for what the "new path" may involve, but US military commanders said Pyongyang's next move could include the testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which it has halted since 2017.
The US Air Force flew an RC-135 surveillance plane over South Korea on Monday and yesterday, according to military flight tracker Aircraft Spots.
US national security adviser Robert O'Brien on Monday warned that Washington would be "extraordinarily disappointed" if North Korea were to test a long-range or nuclear missile, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped it would choose peace over confrontation.
REUTERS, ASSOCIATED PRESS