After a year of threats and weapons advances, North Korea's leader appears to be using the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in South Korea as a tool to blunt growing international pressure on his regime while leaving his nuclear arsenal untouched.

Kim Jong Un, in his annual New Year's Day speech, called for reduced tensions on the Korean Peninsula and flagged the North's possible participation in the games next month, just across the border in Pyeongchang.

South Korea has been eager to involve North Korea to ensure the games are not disrupted by any further nuclear or missile tests and as a way of re-establishing dialogue with the reclusive state.