(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- The new year came with all the fanfare that North Koreans have come to expect, but in a rare speech, the country’s young leader had a dramatically different message from what he had said before.
“This year the entire Korean nation should turn out in nationwide patriotic struggle for reunification in unity so as to usher in a new phase in the reunification movement,” Kim Jong Un said on Tuesday. “We will, in the future, strive to develop relations of friendship and cooperation with countries that are friendly to our country.”
It was a message of peace, stability and a commitment to unify the Korean peninsula. Analysts said the speech was directed toward the U.S. and South Korea’s new leader, Park Guen Hye, who has said she’s open to direct talks with Kim’s government.
On the streets of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, residents predictably praised the first New Year’s address in nearly 20 years. Kim’s grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, had started the tradition. Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, though, shunned the public. He spoke publicly just once in the 17 years he ruled.
“I think he has sent various signals that he’s going to move his country in a new and different direction,” said Donald Gregg, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea. “I think this New Year’s speech was the first step in that direction.”
Kim Jong Un has been secretive since he took over a year ago. But Pyongyang has gone to great lengths to project a modern, more outgoing image of the leader. He’s been seen visiting an amusement park, with his wife by his side.
“I mean, he knows far more about the outside world than his grandfather or his father because of the time he spent in Switzerland and that brings a completely new dimension to North Korean leadership,” Gregg said.
But Kim Jong Un has shown the same defiance of other countries as his father. He successfully launched a long-range rocket last month -- a direct violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions -- and he’s shown no intention of abandoning Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
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