North Korea is struggling under international sanctions imposed for its nuclear and ballistic missiles programmes.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the United States is his nuclear-armed nation’s “biggest enemy” and threatened to vastly expand his nuclear arsenal.
Kim’s comments during a key meeting of the ruling party this week were seen as applying pressure on the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has called Kim a “thug” and has criticised his summits with President Donald Trump.
“Our foreign political activities should be focused and redirected on subduing the US, our biggest enemy and main obstacle to our innovated development,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim on Saturday as saying.
“No matter who is in power in the US, the true nature of the US and its fundamental policies towards North Korea never change,” Kim said, pledging to expand ties with “anti-imperialist, independent forces” and calling for expanded nuclear capabilities.
The declaration came less than two weeks before Biden’s inauguration and after a tumultuous relationship between Kim and the outgoing Trump.
There was no immediate comment from the US State Department. A spokesman for the Biden campaign declined to comment.
Kim said he will not use his nuclear arsenal unless “hostile forces” intend to use their nuclear weapons against North Korea first.
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.
“This foreshows the North Korean-US relations won’t be smooth in the next four years with Biden in office,” said Nam Sung-wook, an expert on North Korea at Korea University in South Korea, adding any concessions from Kim were unlikely.
Kim listed state-of-the-art weapons systems 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 (9,320 mile)-striking range – an apparent reference to the US mainland and develop technology to manufacture smaller, lighter nuclear warheads to be mounted on long-range missiles more easily.
“Nothing would be more foolish and dangerous than not strengthening our might tirelessly and having an easy-going attitude at a time when we clearly see the enemy’s state-of-the-art weapons are being increased more than ever,” Kim said. “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.”
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.
“While Kim leaves the door open for talks, he’s still sending a message to Biden that he’s not an easy [dialogue] partner.”
Kim and Trump first engaged in a war of words and mutual threats, before an extraordinary diplomatic bromance that featured headline-grabbing summits and declarations of love by the US president.
Despite the unprecedented three meetings, no substantive progress was made, with the process deadlocked after a meeting in Hanoi broke up over sanctions relief and what North Korea would be willing to give up in return.
Pyongyang has poured vast amounts of resources into developing its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, which it said it needs to defend itself against a possible US invasion.
The programmes have made rapid progress under Kim, including by far its most powerful nuclear blast to date and missiles capable of reaching the whole US, at a cost of increasingly stringent international sanctions.
North Korea has completed plans for a nuclear-powered submarine, Kim said – something that would change the strategic balance.
“New planning research for a nuclear-powered submarine has been completed and is to enter the final examination process,” Kim told the congress.
The comments came in Kim’s nine-hour work report to the meeting, spread across three days, which KCNA was reporting in detail for the first time.
Besides US and defence policy, Kim also spoke at length on proposals for a new five-year economic plan due to be announced at the congress, which he said would continue a focus on building an independent economy.
“The basic seeds and themes of the new five-year economic development plan are still self-reliance and self-sufficiency,” he said.
Among the plans are building energy-saving steel plants, significantly increasing production of chemical goods to make the industry self-sufficient, producing electricity, and securing more coal mines, Kim said.
North Korea faces growing crises caused by international sanctions for its nuclear programme, as well as self-imposed lockdowns to prevent a coronavirus outbreak.
Addressing South Korea, Kim criticised Seoul for offering cooperation in “non-fundamental” areas such as coronavirus aid and tourism, and said South Korea should stop buying arms from and conducting military drills with the US.
The remarks came a day after Kim explored ways to renew inter-Korean ties and promised to expand diplomatic relations in remarks to the congress.