SEOUL: Donald Trump has delivered a stark personal message to Kim Jong-un saying that unless he gives up his nuclear ambitions North Korea will face disaster.
Speaking in front of lawmakers at South Korea’s National Assembly, the US president offered up a “brighter path” if the country abandoned its weapons programme, leaving the door open to diplomacy, but also warned the US was prepared to use military might if necessary.
“The weapons that you are acquiring are not making you safer, they are putting your regime in grave danger,” Trump said. “Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face.”
Speaking directly to Kim, Trump said that “despite every crime you have committed against God and man”, the US was prepared to resolve the crisis diplomatically.
“We will offer a path to a much better future,” he said. “It begins with an end to the aggression of your regime, a stop to your development of ballistic missiles and complete verifiable and total denuclearisation.”
But Trump also offered harsh words to North Korea, warning the regime: “Do not underestimate us. Do not try us”.
He said the US would not tolerate threats to American cities and that the US “would not be intimidated.”
Addressing Kim directly, Trump said: “North Korea is not the paradise your grandfather envisioned, it is a hell that no person deserves.”
Trump gave a blistering assessment of life inside the reclusive dictatorship, highlighting a host of human rights abuses including forced labour, arbitrary detentions and famine.
“It’s good that he didn’t make any comments that will enrage North Korea,” said Park Ju-min, a lawmaker who attended the speech. “Of course North Korea will feel offended because of Trump’s focus on human rights abuses, but he did not make any specific threats against Kim.”
“I was hoping to hear more about improving communication between South Korea and the US,” Park added, saying he was worried about the US acting unilaterally in dealing with North Korea.
China is the North’s most important diplomatic ally and largest trading partner and Trump has long said Beijing holds the key to controlling Kim’s regime. Trump will be flying to Beijing later to meet with president Xi Jinping.
“It is our responsibility and our duty to confront this danger together,” Trump said. “The longer we wait the great the danger grows and the fewer the options become.”
Before the speech, Trump was forced to abandon a surprise visit to the demilitarised zone separating South and North Korea. A heavy fog prevented the president’s helicopter from landing on a trip that was meant to show support for American allies in the region and has been a tradition of past US presidents.
Lawmakers who were in the room for Trump’s speech were generally positive on the tone, saying they were relieved he did not use the opportunity to launch personal attacks against Kim.
“He had some tough words but the real message is that there is a path to peace through dialogue,” said Min Pyung-doo, a lawmaker in the ruling Democratic party. “He reassured us and the world that the alliance with South Korea is strong and that will go a long way to calming the people’s fears here.”
Trump has struck a more conciliatory tone during his two days in South Korea, placing more emphasis on diplomatic efforts compared to military solutions. He said there was “progress” in resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis during a press conference on Tuesday, but declined to give details.
But the same day, North Korea showed little sign of giving up its nuclear programme. A commentary in the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers party said “we will further bolster our nuclear, treasured sword of justice” if the US continues its “hostile acts”.