(ATTN: ADDS Cheong Wa Dae reaction at bottom)
By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, Jan. 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said Tuesday he is firmly committed to denuclearization and ready to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump at any time, but warned he could seek an alternative course if the U.S. misjudges his patience and sticks to sanctions.
Kim made the remarks during his New Year's speech broadcast by the country's state television, also urging the U.S. to take corresponding measures in exchange for denuclearization steps the communist nation has taken so far.
Kim also said he is willing to reopen the now shuttered inter-Korean industrial park in the North's border city of Kaesong and resume a suspended tour program to Mount Kumgang on the North's east coast "without any preconditions."
That could suggest Kim wants the resumption of the two projects as sanctions relief from the U.S.
"I am always ready to sit down again with the U.S. president at any time and will make efforts to produce an outcome that the international community would welcome," Kim said.
"(But) we could be left with no choice but to seek a new way if the U.S. does not make good on its promises, misjudges our patience, while seeking to force things unilaterally and clinging to sanctions and pressure," he said.
Kim emphasized that it is his firm intention to work on building "new relations" with the U.S., establishing lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and seeking "complete denuclearization," as agreed to in his June summit with Trump, if the U.S. takes trustworthy and corresponding measures.
"If the U.S. responds to our active and preemptive efforts with trustworthy steps and corresponding behavior, (the North-U.S. relations) will move forward at an excellent and fast pace in the process of taking concrete and innovative measures," he said, apparently referring to the measures Pyongyang has taken since the June summit, including dismantling a nuclear and missile testing site.
Kim also called for active pursuit of multilateral negotiations among countries involved in the truce agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War to discuss replacing the armistice deal with a peace treaty, which he said will lay the groundwork for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Kim renewed his calls for a complete end to joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S. and demanded that no foreign military strategic assets be brought onto the Korean Peninsula, saying that they are a "source" of tensions in the region.
He emphasized that the all the agreements reached during last year's three inter-Korean summits carry "significant meaning" in that they could be regarded as non aggression treaty between the Koreas.
"We will never tolerate outside interferences and interventions intended to block our way toward reconciliation, unity and unification of our people while trying to make our relations scummy to their states and interests," he said.
His New Year speech was closely watched for any clues as to how the North will act on the long stalled denuclearization talks with the U.S.
Since the first-ever summit between the U.S. and North Korea, little progress has been made as Pyongyang wants corresponding measures for the steps it has taken and Washington asks for more concrete steps before granting any quid pro quo.
Sanctions on Pyongyang have been regarded as a major stumbling block to active cross-border 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.
Over the weekend, the North Korean leader sent a personal letter to President Moon Jae-in in what appeared to be a friendly gesture, expressing his intent to work together with South Korea to resolve the denuclearization issue.
He also emphasized a strong willingness to meet Moon frequently in 2019 as well to move forward discussion on peace and prosperity.
South Korea welcomed Kim's address, with the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae saying the speech reflects his wish for the development of inter-Korean ties and Pyongyang-Washington relations.
"Chairman Kim's firm commitment is expected to have a positive effect on resolving the Korean Peninsula issue smoothly in the new year," Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said.
The unification ministry also said that the North's leader renewed his commitment to working toward complete denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and expanding inter-Korean relations.
"The government will continue to advance reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas to the point that it cannot be dialed back, while at the same time working closely with the international community and doing the best to realize complete denuclearization and establish a solid peace regime on the Korean Peninsula," the unification ministry said in a statement.
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