SEOUL, KOREA, REPUBLIC OF – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened to expand his nuclear arsenal and develop more sophisticated weapon systems, saying the fate of relations with the United States depended on abandonment or not of their hostile policies, state media reported on Saturday.
Kim’s comments this week at a key ruling party meeting were seen as pressure on President-elect Joe Biden’s new administration, who called Kim a “thug” and criticized his summits with President Donald Trump.
The Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim as saying that “the key to establishing a new relationship between (North Korea) and the United States is whether the United States renounces its hostile policies.”
Kim has said he will not use his nuclear arsenal unless the “hostile forces” intend to use their nuclear weapons against North Korea first. But he stressed that North Korea needs to further strengthen its military and nuclear capacity as the danger of a US invasion increases.
Kim did not cite any specific US action. North Korea has previously called regular US military exercises with South Korea, flights of US surveillance planes and the US military presence in South Korea as evidence of hostility. In particular, the North sees the US-South Korean exercises as a repeat invasion, although the allies have repeatedly denied it.
Kim ordered officials to develop missiles with multiple warheads, nuclear missiles launched underwater, spy satellites and nuclear-powered submarines. He said North Korea also needed to improve precision attack capability on targets within the 15,000-kilometer (9,320-mile) strike range, an apparent reference to the Americas, and develop technology to manufacture nuclear warheads. smaller and lighter to mount on long-range missiles more easily.
“Nothing would be more foolish and dangerous than not tirelessly building up our power and having a relaxed attitude at a time when we clearly see the enemy’s advanced weapons are increased more than ever,” Kim said. “The reality is that we can achieve peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula by constantly strengthening our national defense and removing US military threats.”
It is not known whether North Korea is capable of developing such modern weapon systems. It is one of the most cloistered countries in the world and estimates of the exact state of its nuclear and missile programs vary widely.
The ruling party’s congress met for the first time in five years. KCNA said Kim spoke for nine hours during his review of the party’s plans from Tuesday to Thursday.
Congress is the main decision-making body of the Workers’ Party, and it stands as Kim faces what appears to be the most difficult moment of his nine-year reign due to the triple blow to his already fragile economy – the border closures linked to the pandemic which sharply reduced the North’s foreign trade, a wave of natural disasters last summer and US sanctions.
In her opening speech to Congress, Kim called the difficulties “worse than ever” and “unprecedented”. He also admitted that his previous economic plans had failed and pledged to adopt a new five-year development plan.
Kim’s high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with Trump has been stalled for almost two years due to U.S.-led sanctions disputes.
When Kim abruptly entered talks with the United States, he expressed his intention to negotiate not to advance nuclear arsenals in exchange for economic and political benefits. But as the diplomatic standoff continues, he has openly pledged to expand the nuclear program that he calls a “mighty precious sword” capable of withstanding American hostility.
Some foreign experts say Kim never intended to give up his nuclear weapons entirely and only attempted to use diplomacy with Trump to weaken sanctions and buy time to perfect his arsenal. Months before his diplomacy with Trump began, Kim claimed to have acquired the ability to attack the Americas with nuclear missiles following a scorching series of weapons tests in 2016-2017.
But the tests have prompted new rounds of crippling US-led sanctions that impose a ban on key exports such as coal, seafood and textiles and a significant reduction in oil imports. Kim’s state media have said that these sanctions “strangle and suffocate our country” and are evidence of American hostility.
The South Korean spy agency said Kim was worried about Biden, who shouldn’t have direct meetings with him unless North Korea takes serious steps towards denuclearization.