North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said the country must prepare for both "dialogue and confrontation" with the United States, but with a particular emphasis on the latter as Pyongyang probes for any US policy shift under President Joe Biden.
It was Kim's first reaction to the Biden administration's recent review of its North Korean strategy that promised a "practical, calibrated approach" -- including diplomatic efforts -- to persuade Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear and missile programme.
Since Biden's election, the two countries have adopted something of a strategic wait-and-see attitude following the diplomatic roller-coaster ride under Donald Trump that produced three historic summits with Kim but no agreement on dismantling the North's nuclear arsenal.
Kim "stressed the need to get prepared for both dialogue and confrontation, especially to get fully prepared for confrontation in order to protect the dignity of our state" and reliably guarantee a "peaceful environment", state news agency KCNA said on Friday.
Kim's comments at Thursday's central committee meeting signal a wait and see approach where the "ball is now in the US’s court" to push for either dialogue or confrontation, Hong Min from the Korea Institute for National Unification, told AFP.
Pyongyang had already accused Biden of pursuing a "hostile policy" and saying it was a "big blunder" for the veteran Democrat to say he would deal with the threat posed by the North's nuclear programme "through diplomacy as well as stern deterrence".
- 'Calibrated' approach -
Biden said he "would not meet" Kim without a concrete plan for negotiating on Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal, during a visit to Washington last month by South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
He also made a clear criticism of Trump's chummy relationship with Kim, saying he "would not do what had been done in the recent past. I would not give him all he's looking for -- international recognition".
The White House says it is now pursuing "a calibrated practical approach" -- diplomatic jargon, it seems, for being realistically low-key, while open-minded.
"We understand where previous efforts in the past had difficulties and we've tried to learn from those," a senior White House official said.
North Korea has carried out six atomic bomb tests since 2006. It is under multiple sets of international sanctions for its banned weapons programmes.
But the North may now accept a "gradual reduction in its nuclear arsenal and a freeze in the nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of the sanctions", said Cheong Seong-chang, director of North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute.
A report from US intelligence experts released in April said North Korea could resume nuclear tests this year as a way to force Biden's administration to return to the negotiating table.
Kim "may take a number of aggressive and potentially destabilising actions to reshape the regional security environment and drive wedges between the United States and its allies -- up to and including the resumption of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing," said the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.