Kim Jong Un vows to improve ties with outside world at party meeting

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a ruling party congress in Pyongyang, North Korea on January 7, 2021.   | Photo Credit: AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un underscored the need to drastically improve his nation's ties with the outside world as he addressed a major political conference for the third consecutive day.

State media said Mr. Kim also reviewed relations with rival South Korea but didn’t elaborate on what steps he said he wanted to take. Observers had expected Mr. Kim to use the first congress of the ruling Workers’ Party in five years to send conciliatory gestures toward Seoul and Washington as he faces deepening economic troubles at home.

In his speech on the third day of the meeting on Thursday, Mr. Kim “declared the general orientation and the policy stand of our party for comprehensively expanding and developing the external relations,” the Korean Central News Agency said Friday.

Mr. Kim also examined relations with South Korea “as required by the prevailing situation and the changed times,” KCNA said.

The congress is the party’s top decision-making body which review past projects, lay out new priorities and reshuffle top officials. This month’s congress was convened as Mr. Kim is struggling to overcome what he calls “multiple crises” caused by an economy battered by pandemic-related border closings, a series of natural disasters and U.S.-led sanctions.

In his opening-day speech, Mr. Kim admitted his previous economic developmental plans had failed and vowed to lay out a new five-year development plan. On the second day of the meeting, he said he would bolster his country's military capability.

The congress comes as Mr. Kim’s high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with President Donald Trump has remained stalled for about two years because of disputes over U.S.-led sanctions on the North. President-elect Joe Biden, who is to take office on January 20, has called Mr. Kim a “thug” and is unlikely to hold any direct meeting with him unless North Korea takes serious steps toward denuclearisation.

Ties between the Koreas once flourished after Mr. Kim entered talks with Mr. Trump. But Pyongyang halted exchanges with Seoul and resumed harsh rhetoric against it after Mr. Kim’s second summit with Mr. Trump in Vietnam in early 2019 collapsed over Mr. Trump’s rebuttal of Mr. Kim’s push for sweeping sanctions relief in return for a limited denuclearisation step.

Some observers say North Korea is frustrated because Seoul has failed to break away from Washington and revive stalled joint economic projects held back by the U.S.-led sanctions. They also speculate North Korea initially thought South Korea would help it win sanctions relief but got upset after Mr. Kim returned home empty-handed from the 2019 summit with Mr. Trump.

Experts say North Korea may reach out South Korea first to promote reconciliation mood before pushing for talks with the Biden administration. The stalled Kim-Trump diplomacy began after South Korean officials met Mr. Kim in early 2018 and conveyed to Washington his intent to deal away his nuclear programme in exchange of economic and political benefits.

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 5:30:57 PM |

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