The ominous “nuclear button” that Kim claims to be always on his desk is a carefully calculated threat towards the US that warns it to take the North Korean regime seriously at all times.
In a televised speech on Monday to commemorate the New Year, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called for peace talks with South Korea and issued a warning to the US about the launch button that always sits on his desk.
Kim Jong-un began 2018 with a televised address to the North Korean public. In his speech, Kim preserved the ongoing feud between himself and his American counterpart but, surprising many, offered an olive branch to its Southern neighbor by raising the possibility of sending a delegation to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games hosted by South Korea next month.
Kim’s Message to the US
North Korea’s nuclear program seems to have developed at an alarming speed since Kim Jong-un’s rise to power in 2011, a fact that became increasingly evident with the launch of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile November of last year.
Much to the panic of the US, North Korea’s most recent ICBM is speculated to have the capacity to deliver heavy nuclear warheads to the continental United States — something that Kim did not fail to point out in his speech earlier this week.
“The entire continental United States is within range of our nuclear weapons; a nuclear button is always on my desk,” Kim said in his address. “This is not a threat, but reality.”
Continuing, Kim said “This year, we will focus on producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for deployment. These weapons will be used only if our society is threatened.”
Tensions between North Korea and the US, Kim, and Trump, were at an all-time high in 2017, and the exchange of jabs and insults between the two political leaders (‘Mentally Deranged US Dotard’ / ‘Little Rocket Man’) was no well-kept secret.
But the feud between the two nations extends beyond the comical back-and-forths between the two politicians; 2017 was marked by the US’ accusations of North Korea’s involvement in the WannaCry malware attack, the re-designation of North Korea on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, and repeated nuclear tests by North Korea despite vocal oppositions from the US and its allies.
The ominous “nuclear button” that Kim claims is always on his desk is a carefully calculated threat towards the US that warns it to take the North Korean regime seriously at all times.
Press Secretary Sarah Sanders stated at a press briefing yesterday afternoon in response to Kim’s speech that the US policy towards North Korea has not changed; its focus remains on maximizing pressure on the regime and urging other countries to “step up and do more” to address the global threat of North Korea.
A Softer Tone Towards South Korea
But if Kim’s tone towards the US was one of relentless warning, his message to South Korea was much softer in tone. In his speech, Kim declared his hopes for peace with his southern neighbor.
“If the South really wants reconciliation and unity,” Kim said, “we will keep open the doors for talks for contact and exchange with everyone including the South Korean administration.”
North and South Korea still remain technically at war. Though no overt military attacks have occurred on the Korean peninsula since 1953, when an armistice was signed between the two nations, no peace treaty was ever signed to put an official end to the conflict.
Kim’s peace remarks to South Korea circled mainly around the possibility of North Korea’s participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics, which will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea next month. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has repeatedly and publicly urged for North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics, stating that their presence will ensure the safety of the events. In order to further persuade his Northern counterpart, Moon has asked Washington to delay the annual joint military drills between the US and South Korea until after the Olympics and Paralympics end in March of this year.
North Korea has been largely critical of the large military drills between the US and South Korea, and on Monday Kim emphasized his aversion to the practices by warning in his address that such behavior “only causes fire and destruction.”
Though Kim stated that North Korea’s participation in the Games would be a “a good opportunity to show unity of the people” in the Korean peninsula and expressed his hopes that the games will be successful, he also demanded in his address that the military exercises between South Korea and the US, whom he referred to as “the enemy,” must be halted immediately.
Kim added that North and South Korean representatives should meet “as soon as possible” to discuss the possibility of North Korea’s participation in the 2018 Winter Games.
“When it comes to North-South relations, we should lower the military tensions on the Korean peninsula to create a peaceful environment,” Kim continued. “Both the North and the South should make efforts.”
The North-South Korea Hotline Reopens
North and South Korea have not held high-level talks since December 2015, when North Korea cut off all communication with its southern neighbor after former South Korean president Park Geun-hye closed down a border factory town in Kaesong that was jointly operated by the two nations. Previously, the two Koreas had communicated through a hotline in the city Panmunjom, located near the border separating the two countries. However, after Park’s actions, North Korean officials refused to pick up calls from their South Korean counterparts. Urgent messages that South Korea wanted to send to the North were delivered through a megaphone at the border.
But soon after Kim’s speech on Monday, North Korean official Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, made a televised statement declaring that Kim Jong-un had authorized the hotline’s reopening in order to discuss North Korea’s participation in the upcoming games.
On Wednesday, South Korea confirmed that it had received a call from its Northern neighbor at 3:30pm local time. The call lasted for 20 minutes and, according to a statement from South Korea’s Unification Ministry, was simply a technical call to ensure that the connection was operational.
Trump’s Responses to Kim Jong-Un’s “nuclear button”
At Mar-a-Lago, the ‘Winter White House,’ reporters asked President Trump to comment to Kim Jong-un’s speech as he arrived at a New Year’s Eve celebration. “We’ll see, we’ll see”, the president responded as he passed by reporters and joined his party.
On January 2, Trump turned to Twitter to respond to Kim’s “nuclear button” remarks.
At 6:08am, Trump tweeted:
Later on that day, at 4:49pm, Trump addressed Kim’s speech once more: