SEOUL — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country no longer felt bound by a self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, and warned the world would soon see a “new strategic weapon” as the country continued to bolster its nuclear deterrent.
In remarks delivered Tuesday at a key meeting of the ruling Workers' Party and carried by state media Wednesday, Kim complained that the United States had responded to the moratorium by continuing to conduct military drills with South Korea, breaking a promise given by President Donald Trump.
It had also shipped advanced military equipment to South Korea and imposed new sanctions on the North, he said, complaining of a "hostile" policy and "gangster-like acts."
"He stressed that under such condition, there is no ground for us to get unilaterally bound to the commitment any longer, the commitment to which there is no opposite party, and this is chilling our efforts for worldwide nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation," the Korean Central News Agency reported.
Kim had warned that he would put his country on a "new path" if the United States failed to drop what Pyongyang calls a hostile attitude and make fresh concessions by the end of 2019, threatening to deliver an unwelcome "Christmas gift" to the United States. While Christmas came and went without any missile tests, this week's statement shows Kim moving in a more aggressive direction.
In his speech, he warned that the country would unveil a "new strategic weapon" in the near future, which experts saw as a possible sign that he might test a new inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM).
North Korea has not tested nuclear arms or long-range missiles in more than two years, since declaring its nuclear deterrent to be complete. But as relations with the United States nose-dived last year, it carried out more than a dozen tests of short-range ballistic missiles and rockets.
"North Korea has, in effect, put an ICBM to Donald Trump's head in order to gain the two concessions it wants most: sanctions relief and some sort of security guarantee," said Harry Kazianis, a senior director of Korean Studies at the Center for the National Interest. "Kim Jong Un is playing a dangerous game of geopolitical chicken."
Kazianis predicted any ICBM test would backfire on North Korea, forcing Washington to respond, most likely with more sanctions, an increased military presence in East Asia and more "fire and fury" style threats from Trump's Twitter account, leading to a dangerous escalation in tension.
Kim also pledged to "put on constant alert the powerful nuclear deterrent capable of containing the nuclear threats from the U.S."
But at the same time, he left open a small window for compromise, by adding that the "scope and depth of bolstering the deterrent" would depend on "the U.S. future attitude."
Kim's comments came at a rare four-day meeting of the ruling party's policymaking committee. He stressed North Korea's commitment to develop its economy but said Pyongyang would not succumb to sanctions pressure from the United States.
"It is true that we urgently need external environment favorable for the economic construction but we can never sell our dignity which we have so far defended as valuable as our own life, in hope for brilliant transformation," Kim was quoted as saying.
Kim said North Korea would not allow the United States. to "abuse the DPRK-US dialogues for meeting its sordid aim" and threatened to "shift to a shocking actual action." DPRK stands for North Korea's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Kim has met Trump three times since June 2018, but nuclear negotiations have failed to yield substantive progress, and the rhetoric between the two sides has become much chillier. Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, said the United States and South Korea should still stick to the path of dialogue.
"So far, the Trump administration has been 'fire and fury' or 'we fell in love.' Both exacerbate a bad situation. The imperative is to find a responsible option in the vast space between," he said.