North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in an annual New Year's speech Friday that he was ready for war if provoked by "invasive" outsiders, but he stayed away from past threats involving the country's nuclear weapons and long-range missile ambitions. "We will continue to work patiently to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula and regional stability. But if invasive outsiders and provocateurs touch us even slightly, we will not be forgiving in the least and sternly answer with a merciless, holy war of justice," said Kim, who wore thick black-rimmed glasses that continued his efforts to mimic the style favored by his late grandfather, beloved national founder Kim Il Sung. His comments stuck to well-worn propaganda meant to lift his image for the elite residents of one of the world's poorest, most closed countries, and could be read as an attempt to keep ties with rivals Washington and Seoul from getting worse so he can try to turn around a miserable economy and further solidify his leadership.
While largely repeating the daily propaganda in state-controlled media, Kim's words will be pored over by analysts for hints about the country's intentions for the coming year. There is little public information about the inner workings and policy goals of North Korea's government, which considers democratic South Korea and its ally the United States its enemies and is pursuing a long-range missile that could carry a nuclear warhead to America's mainland. Kim said he was open to talks with anyone truly interested in "reconciliation and peace" on the Korean Peninsula, and ready to "aggressively" work to improve ties with the South. But a far larger part of his speech on North Korea's state TV was devoted to criticism of Seoul's approach to inter-Korean talks and its alliance with Washington. He vowed to improve North Korea's struggling economy and living standards, and also called for the military to advance its technologies to develop more "diversified attack means."