By KIM TONG-HYUNG, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has warned once again that the North could use its nuclear weapons preemptively in the event of a threat, as he praised his senior military officials for the organizing a massive military parade in the capital, Pyongyang, this week.

Kim expressed his “strong will” to continue to develop his nuclear army so that it can “preemptively and comprehensively contain and thwart all dangerous attempts and threatening movements, including ever-increasing nuclear threats from hostile forces, if necessary,” the North Korean official said. The Central News Agency said on Saturday.

KCNA said Kim called on his military officials to salute their work at Monday’s parade, where the North displayed the biggest weapons in its military nuclear program, including intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the American homeland and a variety of shorter-range solid-fuel missiles. which pose a growing threat to South Korea and Japan. KCNA did not say when the meeting took place.

The parade marking the 90th anniversary of North Korea’s military came as Kim revived nuclear policy aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of ​​his country as a nuclear power and remove crippling economic sanctions .

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Addressing thousands of soldiers and spectators mobilized for the event, Kim vowed to develop his nuclear forces at the “fastest possible speed” and threatened to use them if provoked. He said his nuclear weapons would “never be confined to the sole mission of war deterrence” in situations where the North faces threats outside its unspecified “core interests”.

Kim’s comments suggested he would continue a provocative run in weapons testing to increase pressure on Washington and Seoul. South Korea will inaugurate a new conservative government in May that may take a tougher line on Pyongyang following the misguided engagement policies of current liberal President Moon Jae-in.

Kim’s threat to use his nuclear forces to protect his country’s ambiguously defined “core interests” may portend an escalating nuclear doctrine that could further worry South Korea, Japan and the United States. United, according to experts.

North Korea has carried out 13 rounds of weapons launches in 2022 alone, including its first full test of an ICBM since 2017, as Kim exploits an enabling environment to push forward its weapons program as the UN Security Council remains divided and effectively paralyzed by Russia. war in Ukraine.

There are also signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground that was last active in 2017 as part of possible preparations for an explosive nuclear test. Some experts say the North could try to conduct the test between the inauguration of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol on May 10 and his scheduled summit with US President Joe Biden on May 21 to maximize its political effect.

Kim’s recent remarks followed a fiery statement released by her powerful sister earlier this month in which she lambasted South Korea’s defense minister for touting pre-emptive strike capabilities against the North and said forces his country’s nuclear weapons would annihilate conventional forces in the South if provoked.

During his campaign, Yoon also spoke of strengthening the South’s pre-emptive strike capabilities and missile defenses as he pledged to strengthen the South’s defense in conjunction with his alliance with the United States.

While Kim’s collection of ICBMs has attracted a lot of international attention, North Korea since 2019 has also expanded its arsenal of short-range solid-fuel missiles threatening South Korea.

The North describes some of these missiles as “tactical” weapons, which experts say communicate a threat to arm them with smaller nuclear weapons on the battlefield and use them in conventional warfare to defeat stronger conventional forces. from South Korea and the United States, which station about 28,500 troops in the South.

North Korea could use its upcoming nuclear test to claim it has created a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on missiles or other weapons it has tested this year, including an alleged hypersonic missile, analysts say.

“Solid-fuel missiles are easier to hide, move and launch quickly, making them less vulnerable to a preemptive strike,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

“Combined with ambitions for tactical nuclear warheads, submarine-based launch capabilities and more sophisticated ICBMs, Pyongyang is not just looking to deter an attack. Its goals extend to outrunning South Korea in an arms race and coercing the United States to reduce sanctions enforcement and security cooperation with Seoul,” Easley added.

Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over a possible easing of US sanctions in exchange for North Korean disarmament measures.

Kim has stuck to his goals of simultaneously developing nuclear weapons and the country’s dismal economy in the face of international pressure and has shown no willingness to completely give up a nuclear arsenal he sees as his greatest guarantee. of survival.

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