Kim Breaks Mold with Public Speech ; after Rocket Failure, North Korean Leader to Keep 'Military First' Policy

By Sang-Hun, Choe | International Herald Tribune, April 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

Kim Breaks Mold with Public Speech ; after Rocket Failure, North Korean Leader to Keep 'Military First' Policy


Sang-Hun, Choe, International Herald Tribune


In an unexpected 20-minute televised speech, the young North Korean leader demonstrated a new leadership style but reaffirmed his adherence to his father's "military first" policy.

In his first speech in public since assuming the leadership of North Korea, Kim Jong-un said Sunday that his "first, second and third" priorities were to strengthen the military, and he declared that superiority in military technology was "no longer monopolized by imperialists."

Mr. Kim's speech was followed by what South Korean officials said was the North's biggest display of weapons in a military parade, including a missile the North appeared to be introducing for the first time. While it was not clear whether it was a new long-range missile or a mock-up, its display demonstrated the importance that the North Korean government placed on weapons development despite an embarrassing failure of a rocket it launched last week.

Mr. Kim's claim to superior military technology could sound poignant, coming two days after the North Korean rocket carrying a satellite disintegrated after being launched. The failure of the rocket indicated that North Korea might still have a long way to go before mastering the technology for delivering warheads atop an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Mr. Kim's speech on the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung, his grandfather and the North's founding president, was his public political debut. In an unexpected 20-minute speech, broadcast live inside North Korea, Mr. Kim demonstrated a new style but reaffirmed his adherence to the "military first" policy of his father, Kim Jong- il, which has left North Korea locked in a prolonged confrontation with the United States and its allies.

His speech was a major departure from the practices of his reclusive father, who cloaked his brutal rule in mystery and who never gave a speech to the general public before his death in December. North Koreans did not even hear Kim Jong-il's voice until a broadcast in 1992, when he shouted one sentence into the microphone while inspecting a military parade: "Glory to the heroic soldiers of the People's Army."

On Sunday, facing tens of thousands gathered in a plaza in the capital, Pyongyang, Mr. Kim did not mention the rocket failure. Instead, he exhorted his people to appreciate the achievements of his father and grandfather, crediting them with developing nuclear weapons as a deterrent against U.S. invasion.

"The days are gone forever when our enemies could blackmail us with nuclear bombs," he said.

Mr. Kim has been seen but not heard by the public since taking over after his father's death.

A thunderous cheer erupted when he appeared on the podium, waving a hand at the crowd that was gathered in neat rows for the meticulously choreographed festivities. …

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