Asia Pacific

North Korea's Kim vows to further bolster 'nuclear war deterrence'

AFP-JIJI, AP

North Korea discussed new policies for increasing its “nuclear war deterrence” during a military meeting presided over by leader Kim Jong Un, state media reported Sunday.

The meeting was Kim’s first reported public appearance in more than three weeks and came after U.S. media said Friday that the Trump administration had discussed holding the first U.S. nuclear test in decades.

Set forth at the meeting of the Central Military Commission were “new policies for further increasing the nuclear war deterrence of the country,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said, without giving further details.

“Crucial measures” were taken “for considerably increasing the firepower strike ability of the artillery pieces of the Korean People’s Army,” it added.

Discussions also centered on “putting the strategic armed forces on a high alert operation,” in line with the “building and development of the armed forces of the country.”

The date of the meeting was not given, but a separate KCNA dispatch from the same meeting reported a military order signed by Kim was issued on Saturday.

That marked Kim’s first reported public appearance in more than 20 days, after he reappeared following an earlier three-week absence that triggered intense speculation about his health.

A photo carried by the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Sunday showed Kim wielding a long stick and pointing to what appeared to be a blurred-out TV screen while making a presentation to a room full of uniformed officers.

None of those shown in the photo — including Kim — were wearing masks and sitting close to each other, despite the global coronavirus pandemic.

The North has insisted that it has not seen a single case of coronavirus, although experts say that is unlikely.

The meeting also reviewed and analyzed “a series of drawbacks in the military and political activities” and discussed ways for “drastic improvement,” according to KCNA.

Rumors swirled for weeks about Kim’s health after he failed to appear at the April 15 celebrations for the birthday of his grandfather, the North’s founder — the most important day in the country’s political calendar.

His disappearance triggered a series of unconfirmed reports and fevered speculation until he reappeared at a factory opening in May.

Despite lingering rumors about Kim’s health, South Korean officials said he didn’t undergo surgery or any other medical procedure.

South Korea’s spy agency recently told lawmakers that it believes the coronavirus pandemic had led Kim to avoid public activities, saying he appeared in public 17 times this year, compared with an average of 50 appearances in the same time period each year since he took power in late 2011.

News of the nuclear discussions came after a report Friday in The Washington Post said that the Trump administration had discussed holding the first U.S. nuclear test since 1992 as a potential warning to Russia and China.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the U.S.-based Arms Control Association, told the paper that such a decision would likely “disrupt” negotiations with Kim, “who may no longer feel compelled to honor his moratorium on nuclear testing.”

Negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington over the North’s nuclear arsenal remain at a standstill despite three high-profile meetings between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Frustrated over the lack of progress, Kim has said he will unveil “a new strategic weapon” and would no longer be bound by a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests. Kim hasn’t still followed through with those threats though he conducted a slew of short-range missile tests — often describing them as multiple-launch rocket systems, although Japan and the U.S. have called them ballistic missiles.

The North is subject to multiple U.N. Security Council sanctions over its banned weapons programs.

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