North Korean leader Kim Jong-un vowed North Korea would mass-produce nuclear warheads and missiles in a defiant New Year’s message, suggesting that he would continue to accelerate a rogue weapons program that has stoked international tensions.
Kim, who yesterday said that he has always had a nuclear launch button on his desk, has presided over multiple missile tests in recent months and the North’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test — which it said was a hydrogen bomb — in September last year.
“We must mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, and speed up their deployment,” Kim said in his annual address to the nation.
He reiterated his claim that North Korea has achieved its goal of becoming a nuclear state, but insisted its expansion of the weapons program was a defensive measure.
“We should always keep readiness to take immediate nuclear counterattacks against the enemy’s scheme for a nuclear war,” he said.
Pyongyang last year dramatically ramped up its efforts to become a nuclear power, despite a raft of international sanctions and increasingly bellicose rhetoric from the US.
The North claims it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself from a hostile Washington.
US President Donald Trump has responded to each test with his own amplified declarations, threatening to “totally destroy” Pyongyang and taunting Kim, saying the North Korean leader is on “a suicide mission.”
However, far from persuading Kim to give up his nuclear drive, analysts have said Trump’s tough talk might have prompted the North Korean leader to push through with his dangerous quest.
North Korea “can cope with any kind of nuclear threats from the US and has a strong nuclear deterrence that is able to prevent the US from playing with fire,” Kim said. “The nuclear button is always on my table. The US must realize this is not blackmail, but reality.”
Kim’s comments come after a former top US military officer said that the Trump presidency had helped create “an incredibly dangerous climate.”
“We’re actually closer, in my view, to a nuclear war with North Korea and in that region than we have ever been,” said Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, in an interview on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.
Pyongyang sees US military activities in the region — such as the joint drills it holds with South Korea — as a precursor to invasion.
It has rattled the international community by testing increasingly longer-range intercontinental ballistic missiles throughout last year.
Critics have said Pyongyang wants to forcibly reunify the Korean Peninsula — divided by the Demilitarized Zone since the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War.
However, Kim yesterday also sweetened his speech with a conciliatory tone toward Seoul, indicating for the first time that the North is considering taking part in the South’s Winter Olympics next month.
The Olympics “will serve as a good chance to display our Korean people’s grace toward the world and we sincerely hope the Games will be a success,” Kim said, urging the South to cease its “nuclear war exercise” with the US.
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