North Korean leader swears to overcome economic hardships

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “solemnly swore” to navigate his country out of deepening economic troubles as he concluded a major ruling party meeting, acknowledging food shortages and urging officials to prepare for both dialogue and confrontation with the U.S.

North Korea’s state media released Kim’s comments shortly before President Joe Biden’s special representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, arrived in South Korea on Saturday for talks over stalled nuclear diplomacy with the North.

Kim Jong Un had presided over a four-day plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, which he summoned to discuss efforts to salvage a dismal economy, hurt by years of mismanagement and U.S.-led sanctions that were made worse by pandemic border closures.

As he closed the meetings on Friday, Kim “solemnly swore” on behalf of the Central Committee that the party “will surely break through head-on the difficulties lying in the way of the revolution,” the Korean Central News Agency reported.

Kim earlier ordered his government to prepare for both dialogue and confrontation with the United States, which has been urging the North to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions and return to talks.

Kim has threatened to bolster his nuclear deterrent and says the fate of diplomacy and bilateral relations depends on whether Washington abandons what he calls hostile policies.

Kim opened the Central Committee plenary on Tuesday by warning of potential food shortages, urging officials to find ways to boost agricultural production because the situation “is now getting tense.” He said the country should brace for extended COVID-19 restrictions, suggesting it would extend border closures and other steps despite the stress on its economy.

The economic setbacks have left Kim with nothing to show for his ambitious summitry with former President Donald Trump, which derailed over disagreements in exchanging the lifting of sanctions with the North’s denuclearization steps.

U.S. officials have suggested President Joe Biden would adopt a middle ground policy between his predecessors — Trump’s direct dealings with Kim and Barack Obama’s “strategic patience.” But some experts say Washington won’t likely provide the North with meaningful sanctions relief unless it takes concrete denuclearization steps first.

During his stay in South Korea, Sung Kim will meet with South Korean senior diplomats and participate in a trilateral meeting that includes Japanese nuclear envoy Takehiro Funakoshi on Monday. His travel emphasizes the importance of three-way cooperation in working toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. State Department said.

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