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North Korean leader reiterates rearmament at party meeting

SEOUL – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un doubled down on his build-up in the face of what he described as a tightening security environment while outside governments monitor signs of a possible imminent threat North Korean nuclear test explosion.

Kim’s comments during a major three-day political conference that ended Friday included no direct criticism of the United States or rival South Korea amid an ongoing deadlock on nuclear diplomacy.

Kim defended his accelerated weapons development as a legitimate exercise of sovereign rights to self-defense and outlined other “militant tasks” to be pursued by his armed forces and military scientists, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. Saturday’s report did not mention any specific targets or plans regarding testing activities, including the detonation of a nuclear device.

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The plenary session of the ruling Labor Party’s Central Committee also dealt with important state affairs, including efforts to: a Covid-19 outbreak The North first announced last month, making progress on economic targets that Kim is desperate to keep alive amid heightened virus restrictions.

“[Kim]said the right to self-defense is a matter of defending sovereignty and once again clarified the party’s unchanging principle of struggle, might for might and direct struggle,” KCNA said.

The meeting came amid a provocative Series of rocket demonstrations The aim was to force the United States to accept the idea of ​​North Korea as a nuclear power and negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength.

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North Korea has for years mastered the art of using weapons tests and threats to create diplomatic crises before finally offering negotiations to force concessions.

During the meeting, in a move that could have future foreign policy implications, Kim promoted a veteran diplomat with extensive experience handling US affairs to be his new secretary of state.

Choe Sun Hui, who is among the North’s most powerful women along with the leader’s sister Kim Yo Jong, played an important role in preparing Kim Jong Un for his meetings with former US President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019. Talks between Pyongyang and Washington stalled after the collapse of Kim’s second meeting with Trump in February 2019, when the Americans rebuffed North Korea’s demands that US-led sanctions be dropped in exchange for limited disarmament moves.

Choe replaces Ri Son Gwon, a hardliner with a military background who was announced during the meeting as Kim’s new point of contact for rival South Korea.

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North Korea has a history of putting pressure on Seoul when it doesn’t get what it wants from Washington. While KCNA’s report on the meeting contained no comments specific to South Korea, it said the participants “clarified principles and strategic and tactical orientations that must be maintained in the fight against the enemy and in the field of foreign policy.”

North Korea also announced a partial reshuffle of its military leadership to accommodate an influx of former counterintelligence officials appointed to key positions, in a possible move by Kim to further strengthen his grip on the military bureaucracy.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which oversees inter-Korean affairs, said it was not immediately clear how North Korea’s comments and personnel changes would affect relations with the South. The ministry said in a statement that the South, along with its US ally, would respond severely if provoked by the North.

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The ministry added that North Korea’s state media’s lack of specific descriptions of the state of the economy beyond some farming and construction campaigns suggests the country is struggling to meet the development goals Kim unveiled in a five-year plan in early 2021.

North Korea has already set an annual ballistic launch record in the first half of 2022, launching 31 missiles in over 18 different launch events, including its first ICBM demonstrations in nearly five years.

Kim could up the ante once US and South Korean officials say North Korea has all but completed preparations to detonate a nuclear device at its test site in the northeastern city of Punggye-ri. The site has been dormant since the North’s sixth nuclear test in September 2017, when it said it detonated a thermonuclear bomb developed for its ICBMs.

The North’s unusually rapid pace of testing activities underscores Kim’s twin intentions of advancing its arsenal and pressuring the Biden administration over long-stalled nuclear diplomacy, experts say.

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While the United States has said it would push for additional sanctions if North Korea conducts another nuclear test, disagreements among permanent members of the UN Security Council have blurred the prospects for meaningful sanctions. Russia and China earlier this year vetoed US-backed resolutions that would have tightened sanctions and insisted Washington should focus on reviving dialogue.

Kim’s pressure campaign has not been slowed by a COVID-19 outbreak that has spread across the largely unvaccinated autocracy of 26 million people.

During the meeting, North Korea dubiously claimed its outbreak was easing despite outside concerns about huge death tolls amid the country’s ailing health system.

North Korea has restricted the movement of people and supplies between regions, but large groups of workers have continued to congregate on farms and industrial sites to prop up an economy decimated by decades of mismanagement, sanctions and pandemic border closures.

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Kim said during the meeting the country’s antivirus campaign for the past month’s “maximum emergency” has strengthened the business sector’s ability to cope with the virus.

Kim has turned down US and South Korean offers of vaccines and other aid. GAVI, the nonprofit organization that runs the United Nations-backed COVAX vaccine distribution program, believes North Korea has started giving doses administered by its ally China. But the number of doses and how they were distributed was not known.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/06/10/north-korean-leader-reaffirms-arms-buildup-in-party-meeting/ North Korean leader reiterates rearmament at party meeting

Sarah Y. Kim

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