SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un threatened to expand his nuclear arsenal as he disclosed a list of high-tech weapons systems under development, saying the fate of relations with the United States (US) depends on whether it abandons its hostile policy, state media reported yesterday.
Kim’s comments during a key meeting of the ruling party this week were seen as applying pressure on the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden, who has called Kim a “thug” and has criticised his summits with President Donald Trump.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted Kim as saying the “key to establishing new relations between (North Korea) and the US is whether the US withdraws its hostile policy”.
Kim said he won’t use his nuclear weapons first unless threatened. He also suggested he is open to dialogue if Washington is too, but stressed North Korea must further strengthen its military and nuclear capability to cope with intensifying US hostility. He again called the US his country’s “main enemy”.
“Whoever takes office in the US, its basic nature and hostile policy will never change,” he said.
Biden, who will take office on January 20, is unlikely to hold direct meetings with Kim unless the North Korean leader takes significant denuclearisation steps.
Cheong Seong-Chang, a fellow at the Wilson Centre’s Asia Program, said Kim’s speech showed he has no interests in denuclearisation talks with Biden if he insists that working-level negotiations must sort out contentious issues first.
Kim didn’t cite any specific provocative US actions. North Korea has previously called regular US military drills with South Korea an invasion rehearsal, though the allies have repeatedly denied that.
The North Korean leader listed sophisticated weapons systems that he said were under development. They include a multi-warhead missile, underwater-launched nuclear missiles, solid-fueled long-range missiles and spy satellites. He said North Korea must also advance the precision attack capability on targets in the 15,000 kilometre-striking range, an apparent reference to the US mainland, and develop technology to manufacture smaller nuclear warheads to be mounted on long-range missiles more easily.
“The reality is that we can achieve peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula when we constantly build up our national defence and suppress US military threats,” Kim said.
It’s unclear if North Korea is capable of developing such systems. It’s one of the world’s most cloistered countries, and estimates on the exact status of its nuclear and missile programs vary widely. In 2018, the South Korean government said North Korea was estimated to have up to 60 nuclear weapons.
“What they want to tell the US is we’re developing the new strategic weapons that you can see as the most intimidating. Do you want to come to the negotiating table?” Choi Kang, vice president of Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said.
KCNA said Kim’s comments were made during the ruling Workers’ Party congress, the first in five years, from Tuesday to Thursday. He spoke for nine hours, the agency said.