Kim Jong-un Strikes Friendly Note for New Year

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un makes an address on New Years Day. /[North] Korean Central News Agency-Yonhap North Korean leader Kim Jong-un makes an address on New Year's Day. /[North] Korean Central News Agency-Yonhap

Kim Jong-un on Tuesday morning delivered a televised New Year's address, the first in 19 years by a North Korean leader.

While the speech held out little in the way of promise of immediate reforms, it struck an unusually conciliatory note in the isolated country's belligerent rhetoric. "I am sending New Year's greetings to our compatriots in South Korea and our friends in foreign countries," he said.

"National confrontation can only result in war," he added. "What's important in ending national division and achieving reunification is to remove confrontation between the North and the South."

But the young leader also called for a strong military. "The military might of a country represents its national strength. Only when it builds up its military might in every way can it develop into a thriving country," he said.

Commentators here seized on the conciliatory aspects. "Kim's address was rare in that he didn't mention the North's habitual demand for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea or national reunification through a confederation of the two Koreas," said Ryu Dong-ryul of the Police Policy Institute, looking back over New Year's addresses and editorials over the last two decades. "This year's address is the most soft-toned I've ever seen."

englishnews@chosun.com / Jan. 02, 2013 09:10 KST