World Bulletin / News Desk
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un offered Monday to improve inter-Korean ties with an "immediate" meeting ahead of this February's 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, but he retained a stark message for the United States.
"We need to mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles and accelerate their deployment," Kim said in his annual New Year's speech - having already on numerous occasions threatened to strike the U.S.
While the authoritarian ruler's attitude towards nukes remains defiant in the face of escalating UN sanctions, he has seemingly changed his stance on relations with the South.
After months of speculation about the North's potential participation in the PyeongChang Games, Kim used his address on state-run television to reveal he is "ready to take various steps, including the dispatch of a delegation."
"We sincerely hope the Winter Olympics will be a success," he added.
South Korea has unsuccessfully offered Pyongyang dialogue since President Moon Jae-in took office in May.
Moon also recently proposed delaying joint military drills with the U.S. until after the Paralympics concludes on March 18 - as long as North Korea refrains from provocations such as the nuclear and missile tests that drove tensions throughout 2017.
But Kim suggested 2018 is "significant for the two Koreas" because of the Winter Games and the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North's regime.
An attempt at rapprochement may be reminiscent of Pyongyang's surprise decision in 2014 to send a high-profile delegation to the closing ceremony of the Asian Games in South Korea, even if the trip's rare chance for talks ultimately failed to improve relations.
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