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North Korea leader promises look at new weapon soon

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 31, 2019

People watch a TV screen showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, left, during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Kim has called for active "diplomatic and military countermeasures" to preserve the country's security in a lengthy speech at a key political conference possibly meant to legitimize major changes to his nuclear diplomacy with the United States. The sign reads: "North Korea and the United States can't restore confidence." (Ahn Young-joon / AP)
People watch a TV screen showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, left, during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Kim has called for active "diplomatic and military countermeasures" to preserve the country's security in a lengthy speech at a key political conference possibly meant to legitimize major changes to his nuclear diplomacy with the United States. The sign reads: "North Korea and the United States can't restore confidence." (Ahn Young-joon / AP)
Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un accused the Trump administration of dragging its feet in nuclear negotiations and warned that his country will soon show a new strategic weapon to the world as it bolsters its nuclear deterrent in the face of “gangster-like” U.S. pressure.

The North’s state media said Wednesday that Kim made the comments during a four-day ruling party conference where he declared the North will never give up its security for economic benefits in the face of what he described as increasing U.S. hostility and nuclear threats.

Kim’s comments during a plenary meeting of the Workers’ Party’s Central Committee follow a monthslong standoff between Washington and Pyongyang over disagreements involving disarmament steps and the removal of sanctions imposed on North Korea, which dimmed hopes for achieving a full and verifiable denuclearization of the country through diplomacy.

“(Kim) said that we will never allow the impudent U.S. to abuse the DPRK-U.S. dialogue for meeting its sordid aim but will shift to a shocking actual action to make it pay for the pains sustained by our people so far and for the development so far restrained,” the Korean Central News Agency said, referring to the North by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Kim added that “if the U.S. persists in its hostile policy toward the DPRK, there will never be the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and the DPRK will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state until the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy,” KCNA said.

The report was vague about the new strategic weapon North Korea would reveal soon. It had announced in December that it performed two “crucial” tests at its long-range rocket launch site that would further strengthen its nuclear deterrent, prompting speculation it was developing a new ICBM or planning a satellite launch that could help advance its missile technologies.

North Korea last year ended a 17-month pause in ballistic activity by testing a slew of solid-fuel weapons that potentially expanded its capabilities to strike targets in South Korea and Japan, including U.S. military bases there.

It also last year threatened to lift the moratorium on testing nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles it imposed in 2018, however Kim in his remarks at the party meeting gave no clear indication he was abandoning negotiations with the United States entirely or restarting the suspended tests.

Some experts say North Korea, which has always been sensitive about electoral changes in U.S. government, will avoid engaging in serious negotiations for a deal with Washington in coming months as it watches how Trump’s impending impeachment trial over his dealings with Ukraine affects U.S. presidential elections in November.

Kim did warn there were no longer grounds for the North to be“unilaterally bound” to its moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests, criticizing the United States for continuing military exercises with South Korea and providing the South with advanced weaponry.

The allies have scaled down their major military exercises since 2018 to create space for diplomacy, but North Korea considers such drills to be rehearsals for an invasion and insists even smaller drills violate agreements between the leaders. The North has also criticized the allies over South Korea’s recent acquisition of advanced U.S. F-35 fighter jets.

Kim and President Donald Trump have met three times since June 2018, but negotiations have faltered since the collapse of their second summit last February, when the Americans rejected North Korean demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

The KCNA report came hours before North Korean state TV had been expected to broadcast Kim’s New Year’s speech, which he has annually used to announce major changes in security and economic policies. But no speech has been broadcast as of 9 a.m., raising the possibility it was replaced with the lengthy report on Kim’s comments from the Workers’ Party meeting that concluded Tuesday.

In his New Year’s speech for 2019, Kim said he would seek a “new way” if Washington persists with sanctions and pressure. Following the collapse of the Hanoi summit, Kim demanded that Washington come up with new proposals by the end of 2019 to salvage the negotiations.

The Trump administration, which sees economic pressure as its main leverage with Pyongyang, rejected Kim’s end-of-year deadline and urged the North to return to the negotiation table.

Kim’s comments indicated the North’s “new way” may look very much like the old one – a determination to wait out sanctions and pressure, which will possibly weaken over time, while patiently cementing the country’s status as a nuclear weapons state.

Kim called for his people to stay resilient in a struggle for economic “self-reliance,” doubling down on previous government claims that the North could succeed in domestically driven development despite the punitive measures and restrictions imposed on its broken economy.

But Kim also lamented unmet goals in development objectives laid out in 2019, calling for significant improvements in agricultural production and removal of unspecified “evil practices and stagnation” across industries including coal mining, electricity production, machinery and railway transport.

Kim said if the North does not “spur to the struggle for bolstering the power for self-development while waiting for the lift of sanctions, the enemies’ reactionary offensive will get fiercer to check our advance,” the KCNA said.

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