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N. Korea hints at thaw in crisis

Kim offers olive branch to S. Korea

Kim Jong-un speaks during a New Year address at an undisclosed location. (AFP)

Seoul: North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, moved on Monday to ease his country's isolation by offering to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month, even as he claimed to have accomplished the ability to launch a nuclear missile at the mainland US.

Mixing the nuclear threat with an overture for easing tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula, Kim proposed immediate dialogue with South Korea to discuss the North's participation in the Olympics.

If such talks were held, they would mark the first time the two Koreas have had an official dialogue since the South's new President, Moon Jae-in, took office in May. Moon has doggedly championed dialogue with the North, even as President Trump has threatened military action to stop the North's nuclear weapons program.

"I am willing to send a delegation and take necessary measures, and I believe that the authorities of the North and South can urgently meet to discuss the matter," Kim said in his annual New Year's Day speech, broadcast on North Korea's state-run television. "We sincerely hope that the South will successfully host the Olympics."

"Above all, we must ease the acute military tensions between the North and the South," Kim said. "The North and the South should no longer do anything that would aggravate the situation, and must exert efforts to ease military tensions and create a peaceful environment."

But Kim also reiterated his country's achievements with its nuclear weapons programme. "It's not a mere threat but a reality that I have a nuclear button on the desk in my office," he said. "All of the mainland United States is within the range of our nuclear strike."

North Korea made a similar claim on November 29, when it launched an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, with engines powerful enough to send a warhead to the eastern coast of the United States. But it has yet to demonstrate that its nuclear warhead could survive the re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere and hit such long-range targets.

Still, Kim on Monday reiterated that his country had mastered a state nuclear deterrent force, which he said would prevent the Trump administration from starting a war on the Korean Peninsula.

Assessing North Korea's nuclear weapons programme for the new year, government and private analysts in South Korea have recently said that despite its claim to have achieved its nuclear ambitions, the North is likely to conduct more weapons tests to improve its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.

New York Times News Service

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