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UPDATE 4-N.Korea's Kim says to prepare for 'both dialogue and confrontation' with U.S. -KCNA

·3-min read

(Adds Chinese comments; paragraphs 19,20)

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL, June 18 (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urged preparation for both dialogue and confrontation with the United States, particularly the latter, state news agency KCNA said on Friday, in his first direct comment on U.S. President Joe Biden's administration.

Kim laid out "appropriate strategic and tactical counteraction" to deal with Washington in a detailed analysis of its North Korea policy at Thursday's plenary meeting of his ruling Workers' Party's central committee, KCNA said.

"The general secretary stressed the need to get prepared for both dialogue and confrontation, especially to get fully prepared for confrontation, in order to protect the dignity of our state and its interests for independent development."

Such moves would "reliably guarantee the peaceful environment and the security of our state," it added. Kim also emphasized the need to create a "favourable external climate" for the North's own initiatives.

The report gave no details of any course of action, however.

Kim's remarks came two days before the newly appointed U.S. envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, is set to arrive in South Korea on his first visit since taking up the role last month.

He will hold talks with South Korean and Japanese counterparts and meet other Seoul officials during his stay until June 23, the State Department said on Thursday.

Kim's comments continue a "wait and see" policy, while refraining from provoking the Biden administration, said Vipin Narang, a nuclear affairs expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.

"It seems to suggest that Pyongyang thinks the ball is in the U.S. court at the moment, and it is waiting to see how the Biden administration outreach goes," he said.

"Given reports of North Korea's food and COVID-19 situation, one presumes that Kim is also happy to avoid a near-term confrontation."

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Kim appeared to be sending a message to Washington that he would be willing to return to talks at some point.

"Despite mentioning confrontation, he refrained from criticising both the South and the United States, while highlighting the need to maintain a stable geopolitical situation," Yang said.

In their first summit in May, Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in injected fresh urgency into efforts to bring the North back to denuclearisation negotiations.

North Korea lashed out at the United States and its allies in South Korea last month in statements that Washington's comments on its North Korean policy were proof of a hostile approach that required a corresponding response from Pyongyang.

North Korea's plenary meeting kicked off on Tuesday to review progress on major policies and devise steps to resolve pending issues.

On its first day, Kim called for measures to tackle the "tense" food situation, blaming the coronavirus pandemic and last year's typhoons.

Diplomats and analysts say the North is experiencing widespread food shortages after typhoons destroyed crops last year, while there are concerns COVID-19 may have taken hold, despite lack of official acknowledgement by Kim's regime.

Border closures have further hit an economy already battered by international sanctions.

The North's neighbour and ally, China, encourages both sides to come up with an "operable" road-map toward denuclearisation, said Zhao Lijian, a spokesman of its foreign ministry.

"The relevant parties should grasp the opportunity, and work for the gradual de-escalation of the situation," he told a regular media briefing in Beijing. (Reporting by Sangmi Cha, additional reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin and Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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