Thursday’s reports from North Korean state media conveyed that leader Kim Jong Un urged his party to hasten war preparations, encompassing the advancement of its nuclear program, in response to what was described as provocative actions by the US.
Kim asked the party to “further accelerate the war preparations” across sectors such as nuclear weapons and civil defense, the Korean Central News Agency reported.
“He (Kim) set forth the militant tasks for the People’s Army and the munitions industry, nuclear weapons and civil defense sectors,” KCNA said.
The KCNA also said Kim spoke about the future of relations with Seoul, without giving more details.
He made the comments at the ongoing year-end Workers’ Party meeting where he is likely to reveal major policy decisions for 2024. Experts say North Korea is expected to come up with a plan to strengthen its nuclear attack capability and expand cooperation with Russia and China.
In the year-end party meeting last year, Kim had called “for an exponential increase of the country’s nuclear arsenal.”
A week ago, Kim had warned that North Korea would retaliate with a nuclear attack if provoked.
This move suggests North Korea will continue weapons tests to modernize its nuclear arsenal for the time being. But some experts say Kim hopes to use the boosted arsenal as leverage in diplomacy with the US.
North Korea has ramped up weapons tests recently. This year, Pyongyang successfully launched a reconnaissance satellite and tested the most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in its arsenal.
In an earlier statement this week, Kim defined 2023 as a “year of great turn and great change” in which North Korea saw “eye-opening victories.”
This has raised concerns in the United States and South Korea, who recently held the second meeting of their Nuclear Consultative Group in Washington where they discussed nuclear deterrence options in the event of conflict with Pyongyang.
Pyongyang had released a scathing statement against Washington alleging that the US was responsible for what it called a “preview of a nuclear war.”
Pyongyang also criticized Washington’s move to include nuclear contingencies in their joint drills, describing it as an open threat to potentially use nuclear weapons against the North. It vowed to prepare unspecified “offensive countermeasures.”
Kim has refused to return to diplomacy with the US since talks with former President Donald Trump fell apart in 2019 over sanctions on North Korea.