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‘Nuclear button’ in my desk ready to use if North Korea is threatened, says Kim

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Seoul
Kim used his televised New Year’s Day speech to call for lower military tensions on the Korean peninsula and improved ties with the South.
Kim Jong Un on Monday warned the United States that he has a “nuclear button” on his desk ready for use if North Korea is threatened, but offered an olive branch to South Korea, saying he was “open to dialogue” with Seoul.
After a year dominated by fiery rhetoric and escalating tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, Mr. Kim used his televised New Year’s Day speech to call for lower military tensions on the Korean peninsula and improved ties with the South.
“When it comes to North-South relations, we should lower the military tensions on the Korean Peninsula to create a peaceful environment,” Mr. Kim said. “Both the North and the South should make efforts.”
Mr. Kim said he will consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics Games to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.
“North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to show unity of the people and we wish the Games will be a success. Officials from the two Koreas may urgently meet to discuss the possibility,” Mr. Kim said.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said North Korea’s participation will ensure safety of the Pyeongchang Olympics and proposed last month that Seoul and Washington postpone large military drills that the North denounces as a rehearsal for war until after the Games.
A spokesperson for Moon’s office said they were still reviewing Mr. Kim’s New Year’s Day speech.
Rather than encouraging U.S. measures that “threaten the security and peace of the Korean peninsula,” Seoul should instead respond to overtures from the North, Mr. Kim said.
North Korea tested intercontinental ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September in defiance of international warnings and sanctions, raising fears of a new conflict on the Korean peninsula.
After testing what Pyongyang said was its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), capable of delivering a warhead to anywhere in the continental United States, at the end of November, Kim declared his nuclear force complete.
He continued that theme in his New Year’s address, announcing that North Korea would focus on “mass producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment” in the coming year.
This, Mr. Kim said, made it impossible for the United States to start a war against North Korea.
“The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, and a nuclear button is always on my desk. This is reality, not a threat,” he said, while emphasising that “these weapons will be used only if our security is threatened.”
As by reporters to comment on Mr. Kim’s speech, U.S. President Donald Trump simply said “we’ll see, we’ll see”, as he walked into New Years eve celebration at Mar-a-Lago, his elite resort in Florida.
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Kims New Years address.
Kim indicates participation of North Korea in South Korea’s Winter Olympics
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers his New Year’s speech at an undisclosed place in North Korea. Kim Jong-Un on Monday gave the first indication that North Korea could participate in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South, despite tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
“I sincerely hope the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics will be staged successfully,” said Mr. Kim, the North Korean leader, in his new year’s address to the nation.
“We are willing to take necessary measures including to dispatch our delegation. For this purpose, authorities of the North and South would be able to meet in the near future,” he said.
Seoul’s presidential Blue House responded positively to Mr. Kim’s proposal for talks about sending a delegation to the Games.
“We welcome it,” a statement said. “Should the Olympics be staged successfully, it will contribute to peace not only on the Korean peninsula but in the region and the world as well.”
Lee Hee-Beom, the head of the Pyeongchang Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (POCOG) told AFP: “We actively welcome the North’s suggestion that it is willing to engage in talks for the participation in the Olympics.”
“We’ve been preparing for the Olympics on the assumption that the North will eventually take part in the games,” he said, adding that POCOG have in place protocols for accommodation and transport for the North’s athletes.
Seoul and POCOG have billed the Games, which open on February 9, as a “peace Olympics” and have been keen for the North to take part.
Two North Korean athletes — pair figure skaters Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik — qualified for the Games but the North Korean Olympic Committee missed an October 30 deadline to confirm to the International Skating Union that they would participate.
The pair could still be invited to compete by the International Olympic Committee.
“The IOC says the North would be able to take part in any event it wants,” said Mr. Lee. “But North Korea is likely to send athletes to figure skating, short track skating, cross country and women’s ice hockey.”
The Winter Olympic main venues are just 80 kilometres from the heavily fortified border with the North and the build-up to the event has been overshadowed by tensions running high over the Pyongyang’s escalating nuclear and missile tests.
Mr. Kim said the Olympics would “serve as a good chance to display our Korean people’s grace toward the world.”
“The year 2018 is a significant year for both the North and the South, with the North marking the 70th anniversary of its birth and the South hosting the Winter Olympics.”
Mr. Kim did strike one note of caution. “The sharp military tension between the North and the South must be eased and a peaceful atmosphere should be in place,” he said.
Professor Kim Hyun-Wook at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy said the North was trying to use the Olympics to improve ties with the South despite tensions with the U.S. showing no signs of abating.
“The U.S. will find it awkward to put brakes on inter-Korean dialogue focused on Pyeongchang,” he said.
North Korea’s past participation in sporting events in the South has largely depended on the political and military situation, though they did send a full team to the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, near Seoul.
“It is quite noteworthy that the North’s leader himself says the North is willing to participate in Pyeongchang,” Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said. “The chances of the North coming to the Olympics now seem to be more than 80 per cent.”
North and South Korea have been divided by a demilitarised zone since the end of the 1950-53 Korean war.
South Korean president Moon Jae-In last month proposed delaying Seoul’s annual joint military exercises with the U.S. until after the Games.
The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle drills usually start in late February or early March and run until the end of April, usually contributing to a spike in tensions, with Pyongyang condemning the exercises as rehearsals for invasion.

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