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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives his New Year's Day speech.   © Kyodo
Politics

North Korea almost ready to test long-range missile: leader

Kim Jong Un also talks economy, South Korea in New Year's Day speech

SEOUL -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Sunday that the country was in the "final stage" of preparation toward testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, in a likely warning to the incoming U.S. administration to back off on economic and military threats.

The roughly 28-minute New Year's Day address was broadcast around noon by the state-owned Korean Central Television and other outlets, according to South Korea's Ministry of Unification. Kim was seen wearing a dark suit and a tie.

In an apparent admonition to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, Kim said that Pyongyang will "continue to build up our self-defense capability" revolving around nuclear weapons and preemptive striking capability, as long as the U.S. and its followers engage in threats and "blackmail," and conduct war games near the country.

The North Korean leader said that Pyongyang had successfully conducted its first hydrogen bomb test and "developed state-of-the-art military hardware." This, combined with entering the final preparations to test launch an ICBM, "provided a powerful military guarantee for defending the destiny of the country," he said.

Kim called on the U.S. to halt its joint military exercises with South Korea. Washington "must make a courageous decision to roll back its anachronistic policy hostile toward the DPRK," he said, calling North Korea by its official acronym.

In response to Kim's remarks, a South Korean defense official told reporters on Monday that no "unusual" signs in relation to ICBMs had been detected so far. The official did not speculate on the timing of a potential launch, but stressed that Seoul closely watches for any strategic provocations by Pyongyang.

The United Nations tightened its sanctions on North Korea in 2016 in the wake of two nuclear tests and other provocations, squeezing the country's economy. Kim on Sunday discussed a five-year strategy for economic development, laying down in order his plans for the electric, metal, chemical and coal industries. Coal was mentioned second, after electricity, in last year's address. It was likely knocked down because international sanctions have put the brakes on coal exports, according to South Korea's Institute for National Unification.

"My desires were burning all the time, but I spent the past year feeling anxious and remorseful for the lack of my ability," Kim said in a rare acknowledgement of shortcomings in policy. "I am hardening my resolve to seek more tasks for the sake of the people this year," he added. According to the unification institute, Kim was likely attempting to ease domestic dissatisfaction brewing under his reign of terror and a widening political crackdown.

Kim also touched on the ongoing influence-peddling scandal involving impeached South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her friend. "South Korea witnessed a massive anti-government struggle spreading far and wide to shake the reactionary ruling machinery to its foundations," he said, describing the movement as an "outburst" of pent-up indignation against a conservative regime.

He called for a "dynamic pan-national struggle to thwart the moves of the traitorous and sycophantic anti-reunification forces like Park," whom he accused of seeking political survival by stoking conflict with fellow Koreans.

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