North Korea's Kim Jong Un warns US, offers olive branch to South

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed his willingness to reconnect inter-Korean hotlines starting from October 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a fresh warning to the United States and offered a concession to South Korea to restore communications links, just after Pyongyang claimed it tested a new hypersonic missile designed to evade US defences.

Kim accused the US of being a "fundamental danger" to the international community and said in a speech on the second day of a parliament meeting he would boost his nuclear capabilities. Pyongyang for years has been trying to drive to drive wedges between Washington and it allies, hoping to use any discord to its advantage.

"As the actions of the past eight months of the new US administration have clearly shown, the US military threat and hostile policy toward North Korea has not changed at all," the official Korea Central News Agency on Thursday (Sept 30) reported Kim as saying.

Washington's North Korea policy is becoming "more cunning", he added, saying he would step up new weapon developments to deter any possible "military provocations by hostile forces".

Kim called Biden's engagement policy and dialogue proposal a "petty trick".

The Biden administration has said the door is open for North Korea to return to nuclear disarmament talks stalled for more than two years. It has also indicated the US could offer incentives to help North Korea's sanctions-hit economy in exchange for steps to wind down the state's nuclear arsenal.

North Korea tested three new weapons systems in September that included the hypersonic missiles, long-range cruise missiles that could hit all of South Korea and most of Japan, as well as firing ballistic missiles for the first time from train cars.

Kim may be trying to increase his leverage through the weapons display if he returns to the bargaining table, according to Cheon Seong-whun, a former security strategy secretary at South Korea's presidential Blue House.

"Pyongyang is trying to have bigger bargaining chip so it can secure better position in the negotiation," Cheon said.

North Korea has also been warming up to South Korea in the past week, perhaps looking to win concessions from President Moon Jae-in before he leaves office in May. Moon has made reconciliation with Pyongyang a top policy priority and another summit with Kim could help his legacy and give his progressive party a boost in presidential elections to replace him when his term ends next year.

In an olive branch for Seoul, Kim said he would restore hotlines set up under Moon with South Korea from early October that have been silent for months due to political rancor. Kim said the move was "part of the efforts for realizing the expectations and desire of the entire Korean nation to see the earlier recovery of the north-south relations from the present deadlock and durable peace", KCNA reported.

Over the weekend, Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader's sister, reached out to South Korea and said Pyongyang would consider taking part in another summit declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War - if Seoul adopted a less hostile policy. Moon reiterated his call for formally ending the war in an address to the United Nations General Assembly last week. Fighting was halted by an armistice that South Korea did not sign at the time, which now limits its power in seeking a peace treaty to officially end the fighting.

While Kim Jong Un has shown little interest in talks since his last meeting with Moon and former president Donald Trump in the demilitarised zone dividing the peninsula in June 2019, his diplomatic window may be closing. Moon leaves office in May and opinion polls suggest voters are open to replacing him with a conservative leader, who might a take a more hawkish tone.

"The last thing Kim wants is having a conservative administration back in South Korea, which would hold off on asking for the lifting of sanctions by the international community on behalf of Pyongyang," Cheon said.

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