In a New Year's address on Tuesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he is eager to renew face-to-face negotiations with President Trump after a bilateral summit in June. But Kim suggested that he could ramp up nuclear weapons development if the U.S. does not end economic sanctions against Pyongyang.
In the speech broadcast on state television, Kim said he is ready to meet Trump at any time to forge an agreement "welcomed by the international community."
However, if the U.S. did not "keep its promise made in front of the whole world" and instead "insists on sanctions and pressures" on North Korea, "we may be left with no choice but to consider a new way to safeguard our sovereignty and interests."
After months of bitter acrimony and public name-calling between the two leaders, Trump and Kim met in Singapore in June. At the summit, the president hailed a new beginning in U.S.-North Korea relations and an end to Pyongyang's nuclear program.
Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018
Since then, the North has halted nuclear and ballistic missile tests. However, the summit produced little in the way of concrete progress toward denuclearization.
Kim urged the U.S. to take "sincere measures and corresponding action" in response to North Korea's peace initiatives.
In October, the president said he wanted to hold a fresh summit with Kim after the midterms, but did not specify a date.
"It is the unwavering position of our party and the republic's government and my firm will that the two countries as declared in the June 12 joint statement ... take steps to establish a permanent and stable peace regime and push toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Kim said.
Although Kim's address — which has become an annual tradition in North Korea — is aimed mainly at a domestic audience, international observers parse his words to get a sense of the secretive Pyongyang regime's intentions.
As The Associated Press notes, North Korea "over the past months has accused Washington of failing to take corresponding measures following the North's unilateral dismantlement of a nuclear testing ground and suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests."
North Korea expert Bob Carlin, speaking on a conference call run by 38North.org, noted the possible significance of Kim proclaiming that the North is no longer producing nuclear weapons.
"This thing about halting production is new," said Carlin, a non-resident fellow at the Stimson Center and Visiting Scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.
"It was in my mind quite extraordinary all the attention [Kim] paid to the question of negotiations with the United States," he said.
Following the June summit, reports based on satellite imagery suggested that North Korea was continuing or expanding its ballistic missile production.
Just a month after the Trump-Kim summit, The Wall Street Journal, citing analysis of satellite images, said Pyongyang was expanding a facility for building solid-fuel ballistic missiles. Separately, The Washington Post, also citing satellite data, said the North was stepping up ICBM production.
Earlier this month, CNN reported evidence that a North Korean missile base near the Chinese border was also being expanded.