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World

Kim Jong Un's New Year's Address

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

In North Korea, people celebrated the New Year with fireworks and song. You can hear it on this state broadcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Korean).

MCEVERS: And the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, delivered a message.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUPREME LEADER KIM JONG UN: (Speaking Korean).

MCEVERS: He said, "the entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range. The United States can never start a war against me and our country." To talk about the speech, we have reached Evans Revere on Skype. He's an Asia expert and a former State Department official. Welcome to the show.

EVANS REVERE: It's a pleasure to be with you.

MCEVERS: Let's start with that statement that Kim Jong Un made about how the U.S. is now within nuclear strike range. I mean, how do you interpret this? What is he trying to do with this speech?

REVERE: I think the bottom line that he's trying to convey to the United States but also to the international community is that North Korea is and is going to remain a nuclear weapons power. And that reality includes North Korea's ability not only to deter an American attack but to perhaps even threaten the United States itself with a nuclear attack.

MCEVERS: Do you think this speech is also aimed at a domestic audience as well?

REVERE: Oh, I think clearly there's a substantial element of domestic politics at work here. He says that the United States cannot attack me, which I thought was an interesting turn of phrase. He's also trying to tell his people that the United States no longer dares to attack North Korea, the DPRK, because North Korea has now, under his leadership, developed this nuclear deterrent.

MCEVERS: Right. So the idea of the speech is this is the new reality, get used to it, but what about the specific claim that the weapons - that North Korea's nuclear weapons can now reach anywhere in the U.S.? Does that seem possible given what we've seen from North Korea's latest missile tests?

REVERE: So my assessment of this is that while the threat is there in sort of the theoretical realm, as a practical reality, North Korea has not yet crossed the finish line in terms of actually and credibly being able to threaten the continental United States with a missile-borne nuclear weapon.

MCEVERS: Yesterday on ABC's "This Week," former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")

MIKE MULLEN: We're actually closer, in my view, to a nuclear war with North Korea and in that region than we've ever been. And I just don't see the opportunities to solve this diplomatically at this particular point.

MCEVERS: You have experience negotiating with North Korea on behalf of the U.S. government. Do you have a similar outlook about the possibility for diplomacy here?

REVERE: Well, I have a similar outlook about the possibility of nuclear war. I think if you look at North Korea's position and you take it literally that they will never give up their nukes, if you look at the U.S. position and take it literally that we will not tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea, the logical conclusion is that a confrontation of some sort is a distinct possibility - I hope it's not. I hope there is room for diplomacy and dialogue. I think getting to the point of dialogue is one of the things that the U.S. administration is doing now, which is an unprecedented application of economic, trade, diplomatic, political and other sanctions as a way of compelling North Korea, the DPRK, to rethink the course that it is on. We're in uncharted territory here. We've never gone down this track in quite this way when it comes to sanctions and other measures.

MCEVERS: Of course, in this speech, Kim Jong Un also, surprisingly to some, called for direct talks with South Korea. What did you make of that?

REVERE: I have been waiting since the Moon Jae-in government came into power...

MCEVERS: In South Korea.

REVERE: ...In 2017 for the North Koreans to do precisely what they have done - reach out to South Korea. They are, in their own way, trying to drive a wedge in between the South Koreans and the United States by attracting South Korea, the ROK, into a dialogue since the United States and South Korea have been pretty much in lockstep in applying massive pressure and isolation on North Korea.

MCEVERS: Evans Revere, senior adviser with the Albright Stonebridge Group and a former State Department official. Thank you very much.

REVERE: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.