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(LEAD) N. Korean leader set to deliver New Year's message amid stalled denuclearization talks

All Headlines 08:49 January 01, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES headline, first 2 paras)

SEOUL, Jan. 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will deliver his New Year's speech on Tuesday as South Korea, the United States and other regional powers watch for any signals that could jump-start stalled denuclearization talks.

Kim will make the speech at 9 a.m., according to the North's state media.

Kim's New Year's speech has been closely scrutinized by the outside world as it gives a rare chance to get a glimpse into the general directions of the reclusive country's policy in the months to come.

This year's speech is drawing relatively stronger attention as it comes amid a protracted impasse in denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea over how to carry out the agreement reached in their first-ever summit in June.

In his 2018 New Year's speech, Kim said he was willing to send a delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea in what appeared to be a peace offensive, which later led to three inter-Korean summits.

He also sent a sharp-tongued message, however, by mentioning a "nuclear button" on his desk apparently targeting the U.S.

Experts expect the North Korean leader to steer clear of making such strong remarks in order to not provoke the U.S. at a time when he is trying to find a breakthrough in the gridlock in denuclearization talks.

In a personal letter sent to South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday, Kim expressed an intent to work together to resolve the denuclearization issue, apparently renewing his commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

In the June summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, Kim promised to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for security guarantees and new U.S.-North Korea relations.

Their subsequent talks, however, have been stalled as Pyongyang wants sanctions relief in return for what it claims to be substantive denuclearization steps since the June meeting, but Washington wants more concrete measures before making major concessions.

Many forecast that the North Korean leader will use his New Year's speech to urge the "phased" and "simultaneous" enforcement of agreements he reached with U.S. President Donald Trump in their June summit and to demand sanctions relief for active economic cooperation with South Korea.

Sanctions on Pyongyang have been standing in the way of its economic cooperation with South Korea, which has been pursued under the agreements reached between their leaders in three summits this year.

North Korea's media have slammed the U.S. for clinging to sanctions without honoring its promises to Pyongyang. They have also criticized South Korea for not taking the initiative in cross-border exchanges, saying it cares too much about what others say.

Apparently frustrated with the protracted impasse in denuclearization talks and unclear when the crushing sanctions will be eased or lifted, Pyongyang has recently stepped up calls for self-reliance and more efforts for economic development.

Kim's speech will be closely watched for any response to Trump's recent remarks that he expects to hold a second summit with the North's leader in January or February. Trump earlier said that progress is being made on North Korea.

Seoul officials, in particular, will play close attention to whether Kim will make mention of his promised trip to Seoul to reciprocate President Moon's visit to Pyongyang in September.

Kim promised to visit Seoul "at an early date" during the September summit. The Seoul government had hoped that Kim would make a trip here before the year's end.

It would mark the first time that a North Korean leader has visited Seoul since the Korean Peninsula was divided in the wake of the 1950-53 war, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

In his letter sent to Moon on Sunday, Kim expressed disappointment for not making good on his promised trip to Seoul before the end of 2018 but emphasized his willingness to travel to the South.

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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