Newsday, Kim Jong-un warns of 'change in direction'

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In his New Year's Day address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un affirmed his country's commitment to denuclearization and called on improved relations with the United States and South Korea.

In a nationally televised New Year address, Kim said denuclearisation was his "firm will" and North Korea had "declared at home and overseas that we would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them".

In his closely watched New Year's address, Kim said he was ready to pursue an outcome that would be "welcomed by the global community". Washington and Pyongyang appear to have interpreted what exactly this means differently. "The challenge, however, is will Team Trump be willing to back away from its position of zero sanctions relief?" said Harry Kazianis at the Washington-based Centre for the National Interest.

US President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he looks forward to a second meeting with the North Korean leader, after Kim Jong-un said he is ready to meet any time.

However, there was a clear warning that the country is not ready to disarm unilaterally.

Kim and Trump vowed to work towards denuclearisation and build "lasting and stable" peace at their landmark summit in Singapore in June, but little progress has been made since.

The North Korean leader's annual address is scrutinised for hints of the regime's key policy directions in the year ahead.

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Speculation of a second Trump-Kim summit has ebbed and flowed, with the USA president saying that he hoped it would take place early this year.

The two sides have clashed over the pace and sequence of talks, with North Korea demanding relief from global sanctions and the USA seeking more steps toward disarmament.

The North is demanding relief from the multiple sanctions imposed on it over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and has condemned USA insistence on its nuclear disarmament as "gangster-like".

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If Mr Kim walked away from talks and resumed weapons tests, he would risk undercutting Mr Trump's assertion that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat.

He also called for an end to joint military drills between the USA and South Korea and said no strategic military assets should be brought onto the Korean peninsula.

He spoke warmly of his three 2018 meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and of the rapprochement between the two nations, but he said that progress should be consolidated by ending joint military exercises with the United States.

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He referred to Kim as someone who realizes that North Korea possesses great economic potential.

But such plans also require some of the sanctions to be lifted.

South Korea's presidential office, however, welcomed Kim's speech, saying it carried his "firm will" to advance relations with Seoul and Washington.

Mr Kim also met three times with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which boosted his leverage by reintroducing Beijing - Pyongyang's main ally - as a major player in the diplomatic process to resolve the nuclear standoff.

However, Town said the USA then renewed a travel ban on US citizens to North Korea, imposed more sanctions, have continued to talk about maximum pressure, and have essentially cut off humanitarian aid assistance to North Korea.

Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since then, and Mr Kim's New Year address has cast further doubt on whether he is willing to give up the weapons after all.

Washington and Pyongyang have yet to reschedule a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean officials after the North cancelled it at the last minute in November.

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While the State Department decided not to comment on it, President Donald Trump was more candid, expressing hopes of holding another summit with the regime's leader.

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