By Hyonhee Shin and Sangmi Cha
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s leader plans to further develop nuclear programs and to introduce a “new strategic weapon” in the near future, state media said on Wednesday, although he signaled there was still room for dialogue with the United States.
Kim Jong Un presided over a four-day meeting of top Workers’ Party officials this week amid rising tensions with the United States, which has not responded to his repeated calls for concessions to reopen negotiations. Washington has dismissed the deadline as artificial.
Kim said there were no grounds for North Korea to be bound any longer by a self-declared moratorium on testing nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), according to a statement on the results of the policy meeting carried by the official KCNA news agency.
At times smiling or striking the podium with his hand as he made remarks during the meeting, Kim accused the United States of making “gangster-like demands” and maintaining a “hostile policy”, such as by holding continued joint military drills with South Korea, adopting cutting edge weapons and imposing sanctions.
He pledged to continue bolstering his country’s nuclear deterrent but said the “scope and depth” of that deterrent will be “properly co-ordinated depending on” the attitude of the United States.
“The world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future,” Kim said, using the initials for North Korea’s official name – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“We will reliably put on constant alert the powerful nuclear deterrent capable of containing the nuclear threats from the U.S. and guaranteeing our long-term security.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it would be “deeply disappointing” if Kim reneges on denuclearization commitments and Kim would hopefully “choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war.”
In his latest comments on Tuesday in the United States, President Donald Trump said he had a good relationship with Kim and thought the North Korean leader would keep his word.
“He likes me, I like him. We get along. He’s representing his country, I’m representing my country. We have to do what we have to do.
“But he did sign a contract, he did sign an agreement talking about denuclearization,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry in charge of inter-Korean affairs said large-scale joint military drills with the United States had been halted and it would be unhelpful for negotiations if North Korea took action to introduce what it called a new strategic weapon.
There were no official reports as of early afternoon on Wednesday in South Korea that Kim had delivered an annual New Year’s address.
Kim had previously said he might have to seek a “new path” if Washington failed to meet his expectations. U.S. military commanders said Pyongyang’s actions could include test firing an ICBM alongside nuclear warhead tests. North Korea last test fired an ICBM in 2017.
Jeffrey Lewis, a non-proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, said it was difficult to predict North Korea’s next move. But it might involve firing a solid-fuel ICBM and an atmospheric nuclear test, he said.
However, Jeong Han-beom, who teaches security policy at Korea National Defense University in Seoul, said North Korea would not immediately stage such a provocative act as an ICBM or nuclear test because it could risk derailing negotiations.
Tension had been rising ahead of the year-end as North Korea conducted a series of weapons tests and waged a war of words with Trump.
The nuclear talks have made little headway despite three meetings between Kim and Trump since 2018. Working-level talks in Stockholm in October broke down, with a North Korean chief negotiator accusing U.S. officials of sticking to their old stance.
Kim said there will “never be denuclearization on the Korean peninsula” if Washington adheres to what he calls its hostile policy.
We “will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state until the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy towards the DPRK and lasting and durable peace-keeping mechanism is built,” Kim said.
He called for North Koreans to brace for an “arduous and prolonged struggle” and foster a self-reliant economy because of a delay in the anticipated lifting of sanctions.
“The present situation warning of long confrontation with the U.S. urgently requires us to make it a fait accompli that we have to live under the sanctions by the hostile forces in the future, too, and to strengthen the internal power from all aspects.”
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the party assembly results made clear Kim wants U.S. security guarantees before taking substantial action toward denuclearization.
“And he is suggesting that he will take the bull by the horns to achieve that goal, while promoting self reliance at home and still being open to talks depending on how Trump handles ‘hostile policy,'” Yang said.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Jack Kim and Sangmi Cha; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington and Jeff Mason in Palm Beach, Florida; Editing by Grant McCool and Neil Fullick)