MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is warning his country will introduce a new strategic weapon soon. And he says the scope for North Korea's nuclear deterrent will depend on the U.S. The state news agency reported Kim's remarks just ahead of his scheduled New Year's Day address.
NPR's Anthony Kuhn is following this from Seoul, South Korea. Hey, there, Anthony.
KELLY: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So what exactly is Kim Jong Un saying, at least according to this early readout from state media, and how does it differ from what we have heard from him before?
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: The Korean Central News Agency is running remarks that he apparently made at a party plenum which has been going on in Pyongyang over the past four days. KCNA says that Kim Jong Un warned of shocking action by his country, that North Korea would unveil this new strategic weapon and continue to develop these weapons unless the U.S. drops its hostile policies. Then he said to what extent North Korea develops them will depend on the U.S.'s attitude. And if the U.S. keeps on stalling and dithering in talks, then these talks are just going to drag on.
It sounds very provocative, but I do not hear any doors slamming shut on negotiations at this point. He's been threatening to make a total break, you know, completely cut off negotiations with the U.S. We're not seeing that here yet. He seems to be hedging his bets a bit.
KELLY: No, and of course we have no idea what this new strategic weapon might be or how soon it might be introduced.
KELLY: I mean, how does this fit in with the whole Christmas gift thing? North Korea was promising a Christmas gift by the end of the year if the Trump administration didn't resume nuclear talks. Is this the gift?
KUHN: The gift can be construed to - you know, to be whatever one thinks it is. That message was, I think, taken too literally by the media and by the public. Basically, North Korea was saying, you know, what gift you get in your stocking depends on if you're naughty or you're nice. I mean, people automatically assumed the worst - a nuclear-tipped missile or something.
KUHN: But North Korea has been making advances with its rocket programs, with its solid-fuel rockets, with its submarine-launched missiles, all without disturbing Donald Trump, who, President Trump said, was not concerned with these things. So they don't have to go that far. They don't have to test an ICBM. And so I think people were overly concerned.
KELLY: Did I hear you right, though, saying that Kim is threatening negotiations may drag out and be prolonged? That's maybe good news kind of. At least he's talking about negotiations.
KUHN: Yes, it suggests that perhaps this is all a bargaining tactic because for months now, since his address last year, he's been threatening to give up on talks completely.
KUHN: He's been indicating that, you know, North Korea is not getting out of these - getting anything out of these, that the U.S. and North Korea's positions are too far apart, that the U.S. has been making unreasonable demands for North Korea to disarm unilaterally. So, so far, it seems that it's just more pressure tactics.
KELLY: Do we know, Anthony, to what extent Kim Jong Un's calculations are factoring in that the U.S. is heading into an election year tomorrow, and Kim's negotiating partner has been President Trump? Nobody knows whether he will be president after November - after, you know, the November elections and whoever wins and takes over in January 2020 - - 2021.
KUHN: You can bet that that is a very important part of their calculations. Certainly someone like President Trump, who is willing to make a deal with them, was willing to engage with them is someone who is preferable to someone who's not. And so they will probably - if they think that the Senate will exonerate him, that he will stay in office, then they will continue to leave that door open for last-minute concessions by the U.S.
KELLY: That is NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Seoul, where he's preparing to watch Kim Jong Un's New Year's address. So I expect we'll be speaking again before the New Year's night is done. Thank you, Anthony.
KUHN: You bet. Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.