New North Korean leader makes first public speech

By Jean H. Lee

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, April 15 2012 5:20 a.m. MDT

A North Korean vehicle carrying what appears to be a new missile passes by during a mass military parade in the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, to celebrate 100 years since the birth of the late North Korean founder Kim Il Sung on Sunday, April 15, 2012. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivered his first public televised speech Sunday, just two days after a failed rocket launch, portraying himself as a strong military chief unafraid of foreign powers during festivities meant to glorify his grandfather.

Ng Han Guan, Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea's new leader addressed his nation and the world for the first time Sunday, vowing before cheering troops and bouquet-waving citizens to place top priority on his impoverished nation's military, which promptly unveiled a new long-range missile.

The speech was a highlight of two weeks of celebrations marking the centenary of the birth of his grandfather, national founder Kim Il Sung — festivities that were marred by a failed launch Friday of a rocket that generated international condemnation and cost North Korea a food aid-for-nuclear freeze deal with Washington.

Kim Jong Un's speech took North Koreans gathered at Kim Il Sung Square and around televisions across the country by surprise. His father, late leader Kim Jong Il, addressed the public only once in his lifetime.

Appearing calm and measured as he read the 20-minute speech, Kim Jong Un covered a wide range of topics, from foreign policy to the economy. His speech, and a military parade that followed, capped the carefully choreographed festivities commemorating Kim Il Sung's birthday.

It was the best look yet the outside world has had of the young Kim, who is believed to be in his late twenties.

Punctuating Kim's message that the North will continue to pour funds into its military, the parade culminated with the unveiling of a new long-range missile, though it's not clear how powerful or significant the addition to the North Korean arsenal is. Some analysts suggested it might have been a dummy designed to dupe outside observers.

Although the rocket launch Friday was a huge, costly embarrassment for the new leadership, Kim's address was seen by analysts as an expression of confidence by the young leader and meant to show that he is firmly in control.

"Superiority in military technology is no longer monopolized by imperialists, and the era of enemies using atomic bombs to threaten and blackmail us is forever over," Kim said.

His message suggested no significant changes in national policy — the "Military First" strategy has long been at the center of North Korea's decision-making process.

But there was strong symbolism in the images of the new leader addressing the country on state TV and then watching — and often laughing and gesturing in relaxed conversation with senior officials — as the cream of his nation's 1.2 million-strong military marched by.

Outside analysts have raised worries about how Kim, who has been seen but not publicly heard since taking over after his father's December death, would govern a country that has a nuclear weapons program and has previously threatened Seoul and Washington with war.

At the celebration of Kim Il Sung, he appeared to clear his first hurdle.

The speech was a good "first impression for his people and for the world," said Hajime Izumi, a North Korea expert at Japan's Shizuoka University. "He demonstrated that he can speak in public fairly well, and at this stage that in itself — more than what he actually said — is important. I think we might be seeing him speak in public more often, and show a different style than his father."

Kim said he will strengthen North Korea's defenses by placing the country's "first, second and third" priorities on military might. But he said he is open to working with foreign countries that do not have hostile policies toward his nation, and said he would strive to reunify Korea.

He also stressed the importance of national unity, calling his country "Kim Il Sung's Korea" rather than North Korea.

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