(4th LD) N. Korean leader open to inter-Korean summit talks
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Jan. 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said Thursday he is willing to hold summit talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye this year with the aim of making a "big shift" in inter-Korean ties.
In his New Year's Day address, he said Pyongyang will "make every effort" to advance dialogue and cooperation with Seoul.
"Depending on the mood and circumstances to be created, we have no reason not to hold the highest-level talks," he said in the nationally televised speech.
He used much of the 30-minute speech to emphasize the need for improved relations between the rival Koreas, along with the importance of developing the communist nation's military capability and the living standards of its people.
Kim said high-level talks and other kinds of negotiations between the two sides can be resumed if the South really wants to improve bilateral ties via dialogue.
He said he would actively seek the development of Mount Kumgang and other tourist zones to draw foreign visitors in a bid to diversity the country's external economic relations.
South Koreans watch North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's New Year's Day address on television at the Seoul Station on Jan. 1. (Yonhap)
His remarks raised hope that the North will respond positively to the South's new offer of ministerial talks.
Earlier this week, the South's presidential panel on reunification proposed talks with the North in January to discuss pending issues, including the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
On Thursday, the South again urged the North to respond to Seoul's offer as soon as possible.
"We hope North Korea responds to our dialogue offer if it has a genuine will to improve inter-Korean relations," the Ministry of Unification, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said in a news release.
South Korea hopes for significant progress in inter-Korean ties this year, which marks the 70th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan's 35-year colonial rule.
The South's president is also eager to bear fruit in her push for easing military tensions on the peninsula as she enters the third of her five-year tenure.
Kim echoed Park's stated goal of laying the groundwork for the reunification of Korea, saying the "tragic" division can be no longer tolerable and acceptable.
But he condemned regular joint defense drills of South Korea and the U.S. for deepening tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
He demanded Washington end its "anachronistic hostile" policy toward Pyongyang.
"There is no need to say it twice that in a tense mood that such war-preparatory exercises, trust-based dialogue can't be possible, and North-South relations can't move forward," he said.
Kim added his regime will stick to its "military-first" policy and the strategy of simultaneously developing the economy and its nuclear program.
"We will deal resolutely with any provocation and war move that infringe on our sovereignty and dignity and take punitive steps," he said.
It marked Kim's third New Year's Day speech. As usual, this year's address was closed watched by the outside world for clues to Pyongyang's external policy.
Earlier in the day, he began his official activity in 2015 with a visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, a mausoleum in Pyongyang, which commemorates his late father, Kim Jong-il, and grandfather Kim Il-sung.
Many analysts said the North's flamboyant leader would step up efforts to tighten his grip on state affairs and focus on his own priorities after the end of a three-year mourning period for the death of his father in December.
- (News Focus) N. Korean leader's speech arouses cautious optimism 2015/01/01 13:28
- Park calls for military readiness amid tensions with N. Korea 2015/01/01 00:00