SEOUL (Dispatches) -- While a North Korean deadline for the United States to soften its stand on denuclearization talks passed uneventfully over the New Year, state media have been focusing on the prospect of a long confrontation with the United States.
Optimism that two years of contacts between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump would usher in a new age appear to have faded.
Instead, the government in recent weeks has been warning the public of a bumpy road ahead under U.S. pressure. The effort has included calls for North Koreans to "break through barriers” and strengthen the country.
The weekend’s Lunar New Year celebrations included a concert for Kim and other dignitaries with tributes to the country’s leaders for overcoming adversity.
It is a familiar message for North Koreans, but one that now underscores that the leadership does not foresee a breakthrough in diplomacy any time soon.
"The message will be that because of the U.S. hostile policy and sanctions, that things will be more difficult for the foreseeable future,” said Andray Abrahamian, a visiting scholar with George Mason University Korea.
North Korea has said it is no longer bound by commitments to halt nuclear and missile testing, blaming the United States for failing to meet the year-end deadline for it to show more flexibility in the nuclear talks and its "brutal and inhumane” sanctions.
Since Kim came to power in 2011, many North Koreans have steadily seen living conditions improve compared with famines of the 1990s.
In 2018, Kim doubled down by declaring the "completion” of the nuclear weapons program would allow the government to focus on economic development.
The new push is designed to support a line Kim set out in a speech at the end of last year calling for North Koreans to brace for an "arduous and prolonged struggle” and to foster a self-reliant economy because of a delay in the anticipated lifting of sanctions, analysts said.
Kim used that speech to acknowledge North Korea may need to "tighten our belts” for the time being.
The final months of 2019 saw senior officials warning the United States not to ignore its threat of a "new way” if it did not offer more concessions in talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.