North Korea's Kim says 'open to dialogue' with South Korea, will only use nukes if threatened

 

SEOUL, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Kim Jong Un on Monday warned the United States that he has a "nuclear button" on his desk ready for use if North Korea is threatened, but offered an olive branch to South Korea, saying he was "open to dialogue" with Seoul.

After a year dominated by fiery rhetoric and escalating tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, Kim used his televised New Year's Day speech to declare North Korea "a peace-loving and responsible nuclear power" and call for lower military tensions on the Korean peninsula and improved ties with the South.

"When it comes to North-South relations, we should lower the military tensions on the Korean Peninsula to create a peaceful environment," Kim said. "Both the North and the South should make efforts."

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North Koreans show devotion for leader Kim Jong Un
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People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj SEARCH "PYONGYANG PARADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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Kim said he will consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics Games to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.

"North Korea's participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to showcase the national pride and we wish the Games will be a success. Officials from the two Koreas may urgently meet to discuss the possibility," Kim said.

South Korea said it welcomed Kim's offer to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Games and hold talks with the South to discuss possible participation.

"We have always stated our willingness to talk with North Korea any time and anywhere if that would help restore inter-Korean relations and lead to peace on the Korean peninsula," a spokesman for the presidential Blue House said.

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Key moments in 2017 between US and North Korea
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Key moments in 2017 between US and North Korea

NEW YEARS DAY MISSILE LAUNCH

On January 1, 2017, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un warned that an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was in the 'final stages' of development.

The nation said it could conduct a missile test-launch 'anytime and anywhere'.

On February 12, North Korea tested a ballistic missile, but it didn't appear to be an ICBM due to its flight range.

NUCLEAR CRISIS AT MAR-A-LAGO

President Trump was at his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago having dinner with Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe when news broke that North Korea had launched a ballistic missile on February 12.

The president sparked controversy by reportedly discussing the event in front of Mar-a-Lago diners while continuing his meal with the Japanese leader and other guests. 

'MERCILESS' STRIKES

On March 5, North Korea sent an inflammatory message to the U.S. by firing four ballistic missiles into the sea near Japan.

The U.S. deployed an anti-missile system in South Korea the following day.

In response, North Korea warned of 'merciless' strikes against the U.S.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said military action against Pyongyang was 'on the table' and Trump tweeted that the nation is 'behaving very badly.'

COVERT PHOTO OF TILLERSON

During a visit to North Korea's border on March 17, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was unwittingly photographed by a North Korean soldier, who can be seen peering into the room on the right side of the image.

The next day, Rex Tillerson said the threat of North Korea is 'imminent.'

BOLD MISSILE STRIKE

North Korea tested another ballistic missile shortly before President Trump's planned meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on April 5.

Rex Tillerson responded by saying the U.S. 'has spoken enough.' Trump later said the nation 'is looking for trouble.'

The U.S. military warned it was 'prepared to launch a preemptive strike' against North Korea if there were signs the country was planning to test a nuclear weapon.

POLL SHOWS US CONCERNS

A poll conducted by CBS News in April showed that more than half of Americans said they were 'uneasy' about President Trump's ability to deal with North Korea.

FAILED MISSILE TEST

North Korea celebrated the 105th anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth, North Korea's founder, by unveiling powerful new missiles in April.

The next day, a North Korean missile 'blew up' just a few hours before Vice President Mike Pence arrived in South Korea for a diplomatic trip.

TENSE BACK-AND-FORTH

On April 27, North Korea released a video showing a simulation of a White House attack. 

President Trump responded by saying a 'major, major conflict' with North Korea was 'absolutely' possible.

The next day, Pyongyang unsuccessfully test-fired another ballistic missile in an act of bold defiance against international pressure to curb its nuclear program.

'PRETTY SMART COOKIE'

President Trump called North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un 'a pretty smart cookie' in an interview that went viral on April 30.

'At a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie,' Trump told CBS News.

The president also said he'd be 'honored' to meet with the North Korean leader.

KIM JONG UN'S LETTER TO CONGRESS

In early May, North Korea said it would continue its nuclear weapons tests and boost force 'to the maximum' in a stark warning to the U.S.

Pyongyang also condemned President Trump for directing the peninsula to the 'brink of nuclear war.'

Soon after, North Korea sent a rare letter to the U.S. House of Representatives to protest tougher sanctions on the nation.

TRUMP GETS HEAT AT HOME

In Washington, Trump was met with criticism from several lawmakers over his handling of North Korea.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sounded off on the issue, saying Trump 'can't meet with Kim Jong Un' as he'd discussed.

MISSILE TEST CONFIRMS ADVANCEMENT

On May 13, North Korea carried out another ballistic missile test-launch, which landed in the sea near Russia.

Pyongyang said the launch was aimed at confirming the country could carry large nuclear warheads, signaling an advancement in their development.

'MADMAN' LEAK

In late May, a transcript of a phone call between President Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was leaked to the public.

The transcript showed President Trump call North Korea's leader a 'madman with nuclear weapons' who could not be let on the loose.

'BIGGER GIFT PACKAGE' FOR US

As tensions continued to ramp up in May, North Korea launched another ballistic missile test and warned the U.S. of a 'bigger gift package' in the future.

The U.S. responded by issuing new sanctions on Pyongyang.

Meanwhile, experts cautioned that the U.S. 'may not be able to stop' the threat of North Korean nuclear missiles.

US PREPARES FOR NUCLEAR THREAT

Several states began to carry out nuclear attack drills to prepare for potential threats.

New York City set up a triage simulation at MetLife Stadium and Hawaii's government called for school evacuation drills.

DENNIS RODMAN VISITS PYONGYANG

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea in June.

'I'm just trying to open the door,' he told reporters. 'My purpose is to actually to see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea, so that's the main thing.'

OTTO WARMBIER

Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student from suburban Cincinnati, was released from North Korean custody on June 13.

Warmbier had been imprisoned in North Korea since early 2016 after he was accused of trying to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel while visiting the country as a tourist.

After the announcement of his release, Warmbier was photographed comatose and being carried off a plane with a tube in his nose. It was discovered that he had been in a coma for the past year.

North Korean officials said he got botulism and was given a sleeping pill, but never woke up.

Warmbier's father said his son suffered a serious neurological injury was 'brutalized.'

Otto Warmbier died on June 19 from lack of oxygen and blood to the brain, according to a U.S. coroner.

TRADING INSULTS

President Trump tweeted in June that diplomacy 'has not worked out' with North Korea, suggesting a potential change in policy.

Pyongyang called Trump a 'psychopath' two days later.

SUCCESSFUL LAUNCH OF ICBM

On July 4, North Korea successfully test-launched an ICBM for the first time ever. The missile flew a trajectory that could hit Alaska.

President Trump responded via Twitter: 'North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?...'

The president later vowed to 'confront very strongly' the issue of North Korea's 'very, very bad behavior.'

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said North Korea's actions were 'quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution' and that the United States was prepared to use force 'if we must.'

'PILE OF ASH'

In a bold statement, North Korea threatened to turn the U.S. into a 'pile of ash' on July 12.

US THREATENED WITH 'MERCILESS BLOW'

On July 27, a North Korean spokesperson said, 'Should the U.S. dare to show even the slightest sign of attempt to remove our supreme leadership, we will strike a merciless blow at the heart of the U.S. with our powerful nuclear hammer, honed and hardened over time.'

The following day, North Korea fired a missile in an unusual late-night test-launch.

MISSILE LAUNCH BROKE RECORD

The Pentagon reported that North Korea's latest ICBM launch on July 28 was the longest test in their history.

The U.S. responded by successfully test-launching an ICBM  from California.

The U.S. also issued a ban on American passport holders traveling to North Korea that took effect on September 1.

TRUMP WARNS OF 'FIRE AND FURY'

In early August, President Trump warned that North Korea would be met with 'fire and fury' if it continued to threaten the United States.

In response, North Korea said it was considering a missile strike on the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

POLL SHOWS US VIEW OF THREAT

A CNN poll in August showed that most Americans saw North Korea as a 'very serious threat' at that point.

US TOLD TO 'ACT PROPERLY'

President Trump said the U.S. military was 'locked and loaded' in a series of new threats against Pyongyang.

North Korea responded by saying, 'If the Trump administration does not want the American empire to meet its tragic doom..., they had better talk and act properly.'

MISSILE FLIES NEAR JAPAN

On August 29, North Korea fired a missile over Japan that landed in waters near the country, marking a major escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

After the missile launch, President Trump said 'all options are on the table.'

'ASHES AND DARKNESS'

After Pyongyang conducted its biggest missile test to date on August 29, one of its top diplomats said it was ready to send 'more gift packages' to the United States.

North Korea later threatened to 'sink' Japan and reduce the United States to 'ashes and darkness.'

On September 15, North Korea carried out another missile test-launch.

'ROCKET MAN'

President Trump called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un 'rocket man' twice, first during an address before the U.N. General Assembly in September and again on Twitter:

'I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked him how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad!'

Trump claimed the nickname was meant to be a compliment.

'DOTARD'

Kim Jong Un called President Trump 'mentally deranged' and said he would 'totally destroy' the U.S. after he was dubbed 'rocket man' in a U.N. speech.

The North Korean leader also slammed President Trump as 'a frightened dog,' a 'dotard' and  'gangster fond of playing with fire' in a statement released on September 22.

TRUMP VISITS ASIA

President Trump brought up North Korea during a trip to Japan in November, saying 'no dictator' should underestimate the U.S.

Trump's planned visit to the DMZ was canceled due to weather.

TRUMP CALLED 'OLD' BY KIM JONG UN

On November 11, President Trump posted a tweet:

'Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me "old," when I would NEVER call him "short and fat?" Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen!'

NOVEMBER MISSILE LAUNCH

North Korea fired what is believed to be an ICBM on November 28 that landed near Japan.

Trump responded by saying, 'It is a situation that we will handle.'

A North Korean official said the U.S. was 'begging for nuclear war' and participating in an 'extremely dangerous nuclear gamble.'

MORE ON NORTH KOREA

1. Kim Jong Un just had another baby

2. Meet North Korea's secret 'princess'

3. South Korea to create a 'decapitation unit' for Kim Jong Un

4. Kim Jong Un's half-brother murdered in attack at Malaysian airport

5. Study shows most Americans can't identify North Korea on a map

On December 20, it was reported that North Korea is testing whether its ICBM weapons are capable of carrying anthrax.
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"We hope the two Koreas will sit down and find a solution to lower tensions and establish peace on the Korean peninsula."

Lee Hee-beom, president of the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee, said the organization welcomed participation by the North Koreans.

"The (organizing committee) will discuss relevant matters with the South Korean government as well as the International Olympic Committee," he said in a statement.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said North Korea's participation will ensure safety of the Pyeongchang Olympics and proposed last month that Seoul and Washington postpone large military drills that the North denounces as a rehearsal for war until after the Games.

Moon took office in May last year pledging to engage Pyongyang in dialog and restore strained ties after nearly a decade of conservative rule in the South.

But North Korea has so far snubbed his overtures for warmer ties, including an offer to hold inter-Korean military talks about ceasing hostile activities along the border, as it tested missiles at an unpredecented pace and lambasted joint military drills between Seoul and Washington.

Rather than encouraging U.S. measures that "threaten the security and peace of the Korean peninsula," Seoul should instead respond to overtures from the North, and "stop nuclear war exercises with foreign forces, Kim said.

Asked by reporters to comment on Kim's speech, U.S. President Donald Trump simply said "we'll see, we'll see," as he walked into New Year’s eve celebration at Mar-a-Lago, his elite resort in Florida.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Kim’s New Year’s address.

18 PHOTOS
Wanson, North Korea: Kim Jong Un's pet tourism project
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Wanson, North Korea: Kim Jong Un's pet tourism project
A family builds a sandcastle at Songdowon International Children's Camp in Wonsan City in this undated photo released by KCNA. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS
The Bay of Wonsan is seen from a hotel room in this October, 2016 photo in Wonsan, North Korea. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN Christian Petersen-Clausen/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Portraits of former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen in central Wonsan, North Korea October 2016. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN Christian Petersen-Clausen/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Artists of the Moranbong Band, the State Merited Chorus and the Wangjaesan Art Troupe, perform in Wonsan City of Kangwon Province, North Korea in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 14, 2017. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
The Mangyongbong 92 ferry is seen docked in central Wonsan, North Korea, October 2016. The ferry used to carry goods and people between North Korean and Japan until Tokyo introduced unilateral sanctions banning the trips. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN Christian Petersen-Clausen/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
People swim at Songdowon International Children's Camp in Wonsan City, North Korea in this undated photo released by KCNA. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS
Artists of the Moranbong Band, the State Merited Chorus and the Wangjaesan Art Troupe, perform in Wonsan City of Kangwon Province, North Korea in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 14, 2017. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
Statues of former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen in Wonsan, North Korea October 2016. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN Christian Petersen-Clausen/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
A girl carrying goods cycles past wild flowers near the North Korean town of Wonsan October, 2016. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN Christian Petersen-Clausen/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
The centre of Wonsan, North Korea, is seen from a hotel window October, 2016. To match Special Report NORTHKOREA-TOURISM/WONSAN Christian Petersen-Clausen/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance to the Wonsan Baby Home and Orphanage in the run-up to a ceremony for their completion, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) June 2, 2015. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
People attend the Wonsan Air Festival 2016 in Wonsan, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on September 26, 2016. KCNA/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) applauds during a photo session with the soldier-builders who performed labor feats in building the Wonsan Baby Home and Orphanage in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang June 3, 2015. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
This undated photo released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 9, 2016 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) at the Wonsan Shoes Factory in Kangwon Province. / AFP / KCNA VIA KNS / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
A man kisses a child on her head during the second day of the Wonsan Friendship Air Festival in Wonsan on September 25, 2016. Just weeks after carrying out its fifth nuclear test, North Korea put on an unprecedented civilian and military air force display Saturday at the country's first ever public aviation show. / AFP / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Parachutists prepare to perform an aerial display during the second day of the Wonsan Friendship Air Festival in Wonsan on September 25, 2016. Just weeks after carrying out its fifth nuclear test, North Korea put on an unprecedented civilian and military air force display Saturday at the country's first ever public aviation show. / AFP / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Spectators cheer as parachutists perform an aerial display during the second day of the Wonsan Friendship Air Festival in Wonsan on September 25, 2016. Just weeks after carrying out its fifth nuclear test, North Korea put on an unprecedented civilian and military air force display Saturday at the country's first ever public aviation show. / AFP / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
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"REALITY, NOT A THREAT"

North Korea tested intercontinental ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September in defiance of international warnings and sanctions, raising fears of a new conflict on the Korean peninsula.

After testing what Pyongyang said was its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), capable of delivering a warhead to anywhere in the continental United States, at the end of November, Kim declared his nuclear force complete.

He continued that theme in his New Year's address, announcing that North Korea would focus on "mass producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment" in the coming year.

This, Kim said, was "irreversible with any force," making it impossible for the United States to start a war against North Korea.

"The whole territory of the U.S. is within the range of our nuclear strike and a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office and this is just a reality, not a threat," he said, while emphasizing that the weapons would only be used if North Korea is threatened.

Kim's customary New Year’s speech is closely watched for indications of the policy direction the unpredictable and reclusive leader is likely to pursue in the coming year.

Beyond listing military accomplishments, Kim also outlined economic gains as part of his two-pronged policy of developing his country's economy and military.

Despite increased international sanctions imposed over the weapons program, North Korea made progress in areas like fabrics, shoes and tractors, Kim said.

While Kim is keen to declare his weapons program a success, he is unlikely to completely end his contentious testing regime, said Scott LaFoy, a ballistic missile analyst at the website NK Pro, which monitors North Korea.

"I'm still very skeptical of the 'complete' thing they've been talking about, if only because we've seen so much activity in regards to the submarine launched ballistic missile program," he said. "I think a slowdown (in testing) is very realistic, though."

Kim seems likely to tone down his weapons testing at least ahead of the Olympics, said Nam Sung-wook, a North Korea expert at Korea University in Seoul.

"What North Korea is most afraid of is being forgotten in the international arena," he said. "Without launching missiles and conducting a nuclear test, North Korea will be in the spotlight just by attending the Winter Olympics." (Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim in SEOUL, Yeganeh Torbati in WASHINGTON, and Roberta Rampton in WEST PALM BEACH, Florida. Editing by Kim Coghill and Michael Perry)

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