• REUTERS, AFP-JIJI

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Standing beside North Korea’s largest missiles, leader Kim Jong Un said his country’s weapons development is necessary in the face of hostile policies from the United States and a military buildup in South Korea, state media said Tuesday.

Pyongyang was only increasing its military in self-defense and not to start a war, Kim said in a speech at the “Defense Development Exhibition” on Monday, according to a report by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Kim made the remarks standing next to a variety of weapons, including the country’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), photos in the ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun showed. Among them was the Hwasong-16, North Korea’s largest ICBM, unveiled at a military parade in October 2020, but not yet test fired.

“We are not discussing war with anyone, but rather to prevent war itself and to literally increase war deterrence for the protection of national sovereignty,” he said, adding that North Korea’s main enemy is “war itself.”

The two Koreas have been in an accelerating arms race, with both sides testing increasingly advanced short-range ballistic missiles and other hardware.

South Korea recently test fired its first submarine-launched ballistic missile, plans to build major new weapons include aircraft carriers, and has bought American-made F-35 stealth fighters.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the “Defense Development Exhibition” in Pyongyang in this undated photo released Tuesday. | KCNA / VIA REUTERS

North Korea has pushed ahead with its missile program, and analysts say it has begun a major expansion of its main nuclear reactor, used to produce fuel for nuclear bombs.

In 2018, Kim became the first North Korean leader ever to meet a sitting U.S. president at the headline-grabbing Singapore summit.

But the talks process has been largely at a standstill since a second meeting in Hanoi the following year collapsed over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

The United States has said it is willing to hold diplomatic talks at any time with North Korea. Pyongyang has said it is not interested as long as Washington maintains policies such as sanctions and military activities in South Korea.

The United States’ assertions that it holds no hostile feelings toward North Korea are hard to believe in the face of its continued “wrong judgments and actions,” Kim said, without elaborating.

South Korea’s national security adviser, Suh Hoon, is expected to meet with his American counterpart, Jake Sullivan, in Washington on Tuesday to discuss North Korea.

When he arrived in Washington on Monday, Suh told reporters he planned to discuss President Moon Jae-in’s proposal for a formal declaration ending the 1950-1953 Korean War — which ended in an armistice, not a formal peace treaty — and for possible easing of sanctions on North Korea, the Yonhap news agency reported.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un takes pictures with military personnel at the
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un takes pictures with military personnel at the “Defense Development Exhibition” in Pyongyang in this undated photo released Tuesday. | KCNA / VIA REUTERS

Last week the two Koreas restored their hotlines that the North severed months ago, with Pyongyang urging Seoul to step up efforts to improve relations after criticizing what it called double standards over weapons development.

South Korea’s “unrestricted and dangerous” efforts to strengthen its military is “destroying the military balance in the Korean Peninsula and increasing military instability and danger,” Kim said in his speech on Monday.

“Under the absurd pretext of suppressing our threats, South Korea has openly expressed its desire to gain an edge over us in military power on various occasions,” he added.

He was also shown sitting smoking with senior officials and officers, and huge photo portraits of the leader in military uniform hung in the exhibition hall.

His address came after North Korea in recent weeks tested a long-range cruise missile, a train-launched weapon, and what it said was a hypersonic warhead.

Analysts say North Korea is seeking to normalize its status as a nuclear power.

Kim’s comments and the show itself were intended to justify Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs as “part of its right to self-defense,” said Park Won-gon, professor of North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University.

“North Korea held the exhibition on purpose to claim that their weapons development programs are no different from those of other countries,” he said.

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