Kim defends execution of uncle, a purging of 'filth'
SEOUL — Kim Jong Un boasted on Wednesday that North Korea enters the new year on a surge of strength because of the elimination of “factionalist filth” — a reference to the young leader's once powerful uncle, whose execution last month raised questions about Kim's grip on power.
Kim's comments in an annual New Year's Day message, which included a call for improved ties with South Korea but a warning of a possible “nuclear catastrophe,” will be scrutinized by outside analysts and governments for clues about the opaque country's intentions and policy goals.
Widespread worry about the country has deepened since Kim publicly humiliated and then executed his uncle and mentor, one of the biggest political developments in Pyongyang in years, and certainly since Kim took power two years ago after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.
North Korea's “resolute” action to “eliminate factionalist filth” within the ruling Workers' Party has bolstered the country's unity “by 100 times,” Kim said in a speech broadcast by state TV. He didn't mention by name his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, long considered the country's No. 2 power.
But Kim included rhetoric that some analysts called a first step to renewing dialogue with rival Seoul. Kim called for an improvement in strained ties with South Korea, saying it's time for each side to stop slandering the other and urging Seoul to listen to voices calling for Korean unification.
That language, which is similar to that of past New Year's messages, is an obvious improvement on last year's threats of nuclear war, although there is still skepticism in Washington and Seoul about Pyongyang's intentions.
North Korea's authoritarian, secretive government is extremely difficult for outsiders to interpret, and analysts are divided about the meaning of Jang's execution on treason charges. Many, however, believe the purge shows Kim struggling to establish the same absolute power that his father and grandfather enjoyed.
The public announcement of Jang's fall opened up a rare and unfavorable window on the country's inner workings, showing an alleged power struggle between Kim and his uncle since the 2011 death of Kim Jong Il.
Jang's public downfall was viewed as an acknowledgement of dissension and loss of control by the ruling Kim dynasty. That has caused outside alarm as Kim simultaneously tries to revive a moribund economy and pushes development of nuclear-armed missiles.
Seoul worries that instability could lead to provocations meant to help consolidate internal unity. Attacks blamed on North Korea killed 50 South Koreans in 2010, and tension on the Korean Peninsula still lingers, although Pyongyang has backed away from war rhetoric from early last year that included threats of nuclear attacks against Washington and Seoul.
Recent indications that North Korea is restarting a mothballed reactor that can produce plutonium for bombs has left Washington and Seoul skeptical about Pyongyang's recent calls for a resumption of long-stalled nuclear disarmament talks. The country conducted its third nuclear test in February. It's estimated to have a handful of crude nuclear devices and to be working toward building a warhead small enough to mount on a long-range missile, although most experts say that goal may take years to achieve.
Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kyungnam University, said there was a stronger push in this year's message for improved ties with Seoul, but that doesn't mean North Korea will take any dramatic steps anytime soon.
Observers say Kim's vow to improve his people's living standards could be linked to the comments on better inter-Korean ties, which are seen as necessary to winning badly needed investment and aid.
In comments that mirror past North Korean propaganda, Kim warned of an accidental conflict that could trigger “an enormous nuclear catastrophe,” which would threaten U.S. safety.
The 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula technically in a state of war.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Russia hits Turkey with sanctions amid frayed relations
- Pope to preach peace in fractured Central African Republic
- Kenyans accused of spying for Iran
- Palestinian artist who appealed blasphemy sentence of 800 lashes, prison sentenced to execution
- Russia scoffs at alliance with West on Syria
- Testing of Tut’s tomb hints at hidden chamber
- French President Hollande, activists gear up for climate talks
- America cannot cower in fear and believe terror attacks are a ‘new normal,’ Obama says
- Putin in Iran for talks focusing on Syria
- Mali TV shows photos of “authors” of Radisson Blu hotel attack
- Vatican puts 5 on trial for leaks