North Korea Holds Military Parade, Says No US Talks Planned at Olympics

Thursday, 8 February, 2018 - 12:00
Asharq Al-Awsat

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un said Thursday his country is a "world class military power" as Pyongyang held a military parade just one day before South Korea hosts the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Kim, dressed in a long black winter coat, was shown walking on a red carpet with his wife at the beginning of the event on Kim Il Sung Square.

The event, which North Korea's state-run television broadcast hours after it was over, began with thousands of goose-stepping troops lined up to form words and slogans.

In a televised speech, Kim said that the parade marks North Korea's emergence as a "global military power" despite facing the "worst sanctions."

He called for his military to maintain a high-level of combat readiness against the United States and its "followers" so that the "invasive forces cannot infringe upon or harass the republic's sacred dignity and autonomy even by 0.001 millimeters."

North Korea had said it would hold a big event to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its military. Feb. 8 has been seen as a less important founding anniversary but made something of a comeback in 2015 and was elevated further this year in part because it is the 70th — a nice round number.

The Olympics probably were also a big factor.

Kim has gone out of his way to make sure the North will hold attention throughout the games.

Following a last-minute proposal during Kim's annual New Year's address, North Korea is sending 22 athletes to compete and a delegation of more than 400 musicians, singers, martial artists and members of a cheering group to the games.

Kim is also dispatching his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, to attend the opening ceremony. That in itself is a major development — she is one of his closest confidants, holds a senior party position and her trip would mark the first time any member of the ruling Kim family has visited the South since the Korean War. She will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a luncheon, Moon's spokesman said Thursday.

The North's conciliatory moves related to the Olympics have generally been welcomed in the South.

"We have never begged for dialogue with the US nor in the future, too," the North's KCNA news agency reported, citing Jo Yong Sam, a director-general at North Korea's foreign ministry.

"Explicitly speaking, we have no intention to meet with the US side during the stay in South Korea... Our delegation's visit to South Korea is only to take part in the Olympics and hail its successful holding."

Although the United States had not requested talks with North Korea, Vice President Mike Pence left open the possibility of some contact although his message for denuclearization would remain unchanged.

Pence has said Washington would soon unveil "the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever" while South Korea wants to use the Olympics to re-engage with the North.

Hinting at more engagement with Pyongyang, Seoul said it would be open to discussing resuming tours to North Korea's Mount Kumgang once the security of tourists was guaranteed and conditions relating to North Korea's nuclear program were met.

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