North Korea's Kim Promises to Seek Better Ties With South Korea

  • New Year's speech follows death of top cross-border adviser
  • Urges greater 'strike capabilities' without mentioning nukes

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to “actively” work to improve ties with South Korea, days after the death of his top adviser on cross-border talks.

“South Korea should not do anything that could harm an atmosphere for talks,” Kim said in a New Year’s address broadcast on the Internet on Friday. He reaffirmed his commitment to an agreement that defused the peninsula’s highest military tensions in years in August while urging his counterparts in Seoul to exclude the U.S. from negotiations.

Kim’s remarks may ease concerns that the death on Tuesday of adviser Kim Yang Gon in a traffic accident would presage a more hawkish turn toward South Korea. The official had been a member of the North Korea delegation that reached the pact last summer. The two sides haven’t met since early last month, when talks ended without a deal.

While Kim Jong Un made no specific reference to his country’s nuclear arms development during the speech, he said his forces should develop diverse “strike capabilities” for self-defense. He repeated his calls for the U.S. to stop joint military drills with South Korea.

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