North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has “solemnly” pledged to take his country out of its economic troubles deepened by the US sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.
North Korea’s state media cited Kim as making the remarks shortly before US special representative for the North, Sung Kim, arrived in South Korea on Saturday for talks over stalled nuclear diplomacy with officials in Pyongyang.
Kim “solemnly swore” that the ruling party “will surely break through head-on the difficulties lying in the way” of the country’s progress, according to the North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The remarks came after the North Korean leader presided over a four-day plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, which he had summoned to discuss efforts to salvage the country’s economy following years of US-led sanctions exacerbated by pandemic border closures.
Kim opened the Central Committee plenary on Tuesday by warning of potential food shortages, calling on North Korean officials to find ways to boost agricultural production as the situation was getting “tense.”
The 37-year-old leader said the country should brace for extended COVID-19 restrictions, suggesting that he would extend border closures and other steps despite heightened pressure on the economy.
Kim concluded the meeting on Friday by acknowledging food shortages and urging officials to prepare for both dialogue and confrontation with the US, which has been pressing the North to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missiles program, and return to talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
During his stay in South Korea, Sung Kim is slated to meet with senior South Korean diplomats and participate on Monday in a trilateral meeting that includes Japanese nuclear envoy Takehiro Funakoshi.
Sung is supposed to underline in the talks the importance of three-way cooperation in working toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea has long been under harsh United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs. The US has spearheaded those sanctions and has imposed several rounds of its own.
Former US president Donald Trump attempted to court Pyongyang, and although he met with Kim three times, he refused to relieve any of the sanctions on the North in return for several steps taken by Pyongyang toward denuclearization. That hampered further diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington and prompted Kim to announce an end to a moratorium on the country's missile tests.
Pyongyang has blasted the new administration in Washington for pursuing a "hostile policy" after US President Joe Biden said he would deal with the “threat” posed by the North's nuclear program "through diplomacy as well as stern deterrence."