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N. Korean leader set to deliver New Year's message amid heightened tensions

All News 06:08 January 01, 2020

By Choi Soo-hyang

SEOUL, Jan. 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is expected to deliver a New Year's address Wednesday amid concern Pyongyang could return to a provocative tack after months of stalemate in its nuclear negotiations with the United Sates.

Kim is widely expected to deliver the speech through the country's state television, though this year he could replace the annual address with a policy speech at a plenary meeting of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee that began Saturday.

No matter what form it may take, Kim's speech will be closely scrutinized by the outside world over a possible policy shift in the North's denuclearization talks with the U.S. Kim has used the annual speech to give directions on key domestic and foreign issues for the year.

This year's speech comes as the North held a rare multiday plenary session of the ruling party ahead of the year-end deadline it has set for Washington to come up with a new, agreeable proposal in their negotiations.

On Monday, Kim presided over the third-day session of the party meeting and called for "diplomatic and military countermeasures" to preserve the country's sovereignty and security, according to state media.

In his 2019 New Year's address, Kim expressed his willingness to meet again with U.S. President Donald Trump for nuclear talks, while also warning of seeking a new way in case the U.S. sticks to sanctions and pressure against the North.

Kim and Trump actually held their second summit in Hanoi the following month, but the meeting collapsed without a deal due to wide differences over the scope of Pyongyang's denuclearization measures and Washington's sanctions relief.

The two countries held their last working-level talks in Stockholm in October, but the meeting also broke down, with Pyongyang accusing Washington of failing to come up with a new proposal.

As the deadline expired with no major breakthrough in their diplomacy, some experts say the North could declare a suspension to its negotiations with the U.S. and an end to the country's moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests.

In December, North Korea conducted two apparent rocket engine tests at its satellite launch site, deepening concern it may be gearing up preparations to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Washington has warned Pyongyang against any provocations, with Trump saying that the communist nation could "lose everything."

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hopes the North will choose "a path of peace, not confrontation," adding that Washington is closely monitoring its moves.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks as he presides over the second day of the plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang on Dec. 29, 2019, in this photo released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency the next day. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)


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