Flanked by missiles, North Korea's Kim says U.S. and South Korea threaten peace

SEOUL (Reuters) – 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 on Tuesday.

Pyongyang was only increasing its military in self-defence and not to start a war, Kim said in a speech at the Defence Development Exhibition on Monday, according to a report by state news agency KCNA.

Kim made the remarks standing next to a variety of weapons, including the country’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), 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”.

State television footage showed a smiling Kim clapping as shirtless soldiers use their hands to smash bricks placed on colleagues’ chests, as others cut chains wrapped around their bodies in a show of strength.

Kim also saluted jets leaving coloured trails during an air show, while strolling through missiles on display.

A spokesperson for South Korea’s defence ministry told a briefing that South Korean and the U.S. intelligence agencies were analysing the equipment displayed at the exhibition.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during an event celebrating the 76th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo released on October 11, 2021 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS.

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

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 were 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 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, Yonhap news agency reported.

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 criticising 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.

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