SEOUL — In a domestically televised New Year’s Day speech, North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Eun said he wants to “remove confrontation” on this divided peninsula and called on “anti-
reunification forces” in South Korea to end their hostility toward the North.
The lengthy address, which laid out North Korea’s goals for the year, marked Kim’s first formal remarks since the election two weeks ago of Park Geun-hye as South Korea’s next president.
The North Korean leader asked for a detente — but with prerequisites that the conservative Park is likely to be reluctant to accept. Both sides, Kim said, must implement joint agreements signed years ago by the North and liberal, pro-engagement presidents in Seoul. Those agreements call for, among other things, economic cooperation, high-level government dialogue and the creation of a special “cooperation” zone in the Yellow Sea, where the North and South spar over a maritime border.
Park, who takes office next month, has said that she will resume humanitarian exchanges and small-scale economic projects with the North — efforts that were shuttered under outgoing hard-
liner Lee Myung-bak. But Park has pledged to hold off on major economic cooperation unless the North disassembles its nuclear weapons program, something Pyongyang says it will never do.
With his speech Tuesday, Kim reinforced his image as a far more outgoing leader than his father, Kim Jong Il, who ruled for 17 years and addressed North Korean citizens only once, with a seconds-long exhortation at a military parade. During Kim Jong Il’s tenure, the New Year’s message was delivered in a lengthy editorial carried by the state-run newspapers.
The previous Jan. 1 speech was given by North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, in 1994, months before his death.
Whether spoken or written, the New Year’s messages are scrutinized by outside analysts for hints about policymaking in the family-run police state. On Tuesday, Kim emphasized many staple themes of the country’s daily propaganda: He spoke about economic improvement but did not mention the North’s destitution and food shortages. He called for a “dynamic struggle to boost production” but gave no clear sign that the government would change its spending priorities — its military and weapons programs.
Kim also portrayed a successful satellite launch last month as an event that would inspire North Korea’s citizens to work harder to boost the economy. Washington and its allies say the launch was a de facto test of an intercontinental ballistic missile and defied U.N. Security Council resolutions.
“Let us bring about a radical turn in the building of an economic giant with the same spirit and mettle as were displayed in conquering space,” Kim said, enunciating what he said was the Workers’ Party slogan for 2013.
His speech had no mention of the United States or the North’s nuclear weapons program.