“If the US miscalculates our people's patience, forces something upon us and pursues sanctions and pressure without keeping a promise it made in front of the world, we have no option but to explore a new path in order to protect our sovereignty and achieve peace on the Korean peninsula,” said North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un during his televised New Year’s speech.
Kim is sitting deep in a Chesterfield Club fauteuil and speaks with a low, somewhat slow voice. On a wall behind him hang the life-size portraits of his father, the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il and the “Great Leader,” and still honorary president and founder of the nation, grandpa Kim Il-sung.
“Now that North and South Korea decided on the path of peace and prosperity, we insist that joint military exercises with outside forces and deployment of war weapons such as outside strategic assets should no longer be allowed.”
Last year, in a sudden diplomatic turnabout, after years of hostilities, relations between the US and North Korea warmed, culminating in a summit between US president Donald Trump and the North Korean leader in Singapore.
The summit resulted in a 4-point joint statement:
- The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US–DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
- The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
- Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
- The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
But the declaration was seen as vague and lacked specifics. One point of contention is the phrase “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” where pro-Washington observers point out that the US withdrew its nuclear arsenal from bases in the South under president George H.W. Bush in 1991 and pro-Pyongyang analysts say that Kim in fact wants the US to remove all its nuclear weapons from the region – including the massive US naval and air base in Okinawa, Japan.
The US did scale down joint military operations with South Korea, and the North says it destroyed nuclear and missile testing sites.
But according to Pyongyang, this is not enough. Washington must first and foremost declare an end to the state of war. The 1953 armistice that halted the physical hostilities of the Korean war, freezing the armies of North Korea on the north and the troops of South Korea and the US on the south of the 37th parallel.
Pyongyang also thinks it did enough to show that it stopped its program of army-grade nuclear material, nuclear tests and tests with ICBM’s, and now expects the US to stop its strangling economic sanctions that were imposed as a reaction.
“North Korea may start military exercises on a larger scale,” says Noh Jongsun, an emiritus professor with Yonsei University in Seoul.
“And it also may produce more nuclear weapons, and more missile tests.
Admitting that Kim did not specifically mention any clear counter measures, “he implicated that the US is supposed to do something in response to what North Korea did in terms of exploding nuclear test sites and also dismantling the ICBM test site in Dongchangmin, those kind of things.”
With that, Pyongyang is putting the ball in the court of the White House. It is unclear how president Trump will react.