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Kim Jong Un prioritizes food crisis over nuclear talks in 2022

North Korea's Kim Jong Un. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Kim Jong Un urged North Korea to focus on easing food shortages and containing COVID-19, in a downbeat New Year’s policy assessment that suggested nuclear talks with the U.S. were a low priority for the coming months.

Much of the published remarks focused on agriculture, with the state facing one of its most dire food shortages since Kim took power a decade ago. The situation has been made more worse by severe weather and his decision to shut borders because of the pandemic, effectively slamming the brakes on legal trade and the black market flow of foodstuffs from China.

Kim laid out his 2022 agenda in remarks to ruling party cadres that were published by state media Saturday and appeared to take the place of his traditional New Year’s Day address. During the five-day Workers’ Party meeting in Pyongyang, the North Korean leader also called for strengthening the military’s power because of an unstable environment.

“The country’s economic projects are still under difficult conditions,” Kim said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency, a rare admission of the strains his government was facing.

The meeting came as Kim, 37, marks 10 years power and coincides with the New Year’s Day holiday when the reclusive state’s leader typically lays out economic and security priorities. Kim also put high priority on preventing a spread of the coronavirus. While North Korea has boasted that it has seen no cases of COVID-19, the U.S. and others doubt the claim.

Kim has shown little public interest in returning to nuclear talks that were revived and then collapsed under former President Donald Trump. In recent months, the North Korean leader has rolled out his most latest weaponry designed to deliver nuclear strikes against U.S. allies in Asia.

The Biden administration has said the door is open for talks and indicated it would be willing to consider economic incentives to reward North Korea for taking steps to wind down its nuclear arsenal, which has only grown in size as disarmament discussions have sputtered.

At the same time, North Korea’s economy is now smaller than when Kim took power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December 2011 in large part as a result of the sanctions to punish him for testing nuclear weapons and missiles that can deliver warheads to the U.S. mainland.

Kim said in June at a similar meeting his country was open to “both dialogue and confrontation,” offering the highest-level opening for discussions since Biden replaced Trump, who met Kim three times.

But the North Korean subsequently started testing new weapons systems that included long-range cruise missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads to all of South Korea and most of Japan as well as a new submarine-launched ballistic missile.

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