South Korea holds Panama oil tanker suspected of North Korea trade

South Korea seized a Panama-flagged ship on suspicion of breaking international sanctions by supplying oil to North Korea

But U.S. -based experts saw Kim's speech as a clear attempt to divide Seoul from its main ally, Washington, which has led an global campaign to pressure North Korea through sanctions to give up weapons programs aimed at developing nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States.

His annual speech serves as a indication of his priorities for 2018.

He said the North might also be using its potential Olympic participation as a chance to show its nuclear program is not meant to pose a threat to regional peace.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has repeatedly expressed his hope that the North will participate in the Winter Games. The United Nations Security Council last month approved its strongest sanctions yet on North Korea - a move that Pyongyang described as an "act of war".

The New York Times also reported that Kim's words are merely aimed at alleviating worldwide sanctions and brewing discord between South Korea and the U.S. South Korea and the U.S. share one goal of denuclearizing Pyongyang, . but have different ideas on how to achieve it. President Moon Jae-in wants talks and negotiations, . while U.S. President Donald Trump continues to emphasize sanctions and pressure.

Moon's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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His remarks come after both the USA and the United Nations slapped repeated rounds of sanctions against the state in response to Pyongyang's aggressive weapons testing.

"We're actually closer in my view to a nuclear war with North Korea and in that region than we've ever been". A year ago, he said North Korea was in its "last stage" of preparations to test fire an intercontinental ballistic missile, and he ended up firing three of them. "The U.S. can never start a war against myself and our nation now".

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers a New Year's address in Pyongyang on Monday, in this grab from [North] Korean Central Television.

Kim said during his address that his aim is to "lower the military tensions on the Korean Peninsula to create a peaceful environment".

Besides those tests, North Korea also detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear device and fired more than a dozen rockets.

But he reiterated his demand that the South Korean government stop holding joint military exercises with the US and stop bringing in USA weapons. Trump has nicknamed Kim "Little Rocket Man" and referred to his weight, while the North Korean leader has called the US president a "dotard" and warned of the "highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history". Analysts say Kim may be trying to drive a wedge between Seoul and its ally Washington in a bid to reduce global isolation and sanctions against North Korea.

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