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(LEAD) U.S. declines to comment on N.K. leader's speech

All News 05:25 January 02, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES with expert's comments, details, background in last 8 paras; ADDS photo)
By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, Jan. 1 (Yonhap) -- The United States declined to comment Tuesday after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un renewed his commitment to denuclearize but demanded reciprocal steps from the U.S.

"We decline the opportunity to comment," a State Department spokesperson told Yonhap on condition of anonymity.

It was Washington's first response to Kim's annual New Year's speech, which was watched closely for hints of the future of stalled denuclearization talks between the North and the U.S.

Kim said in the address that he is committed to achieving "complete denuclearization" as agreed during his first summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in June.

But he also warned the U.S. not to test the North's patience with continued sanctions and pressure, saying his regime may be "compelled to find a new way for defending the sovereignty of the country and the supreme interests of the state and for achieving peace and stability of the Korean peninsula."

In this image from North Korean state television, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers his televised New Year's speech on Jan. 1, 2019. He gave the speech sitting in a dark leather armchair in an office, an unusual detail for his annual speeches. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution.) (Yonhap)

Trump, who continued to tweet about the partial government shutdown over funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, made no mention of Kim's speech.

The U.S. president has touted progress with the North and heaped praise on Kim, saying the two "fell in love."

A second summit is being planned for January or February, according to Trump.

Kim said in his address that the two in June "exchanged constructive views and reached a consensus of understanding for a shortcut to removing each other's apprehensions and resolving the entangled problems."

He added that he is "ready to meet the U.S. president again anytime, and will make efforts to obtain without fail results which can be welcomed by the international community."

Victor Cha, senior adviser and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted the timing of the speech.

"Making this speech that appears open to negotiating after a period of stalled diplomacy at the end of 2018, may be seen as an opportunity to have the leaders meet. At least that is what the negotiators will want to do," he told Yonhap.

"But for skeptics, this is the same North Korea -- feigning negotiations over denuclearization but really wanting tension reduction with de facto acceptance as a responsible nuclear weapons state who will not transfer or produce additional capabilities," he said.


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