North Korea opens big party meeting amid signs of nuclear tests | New Policies

By KIM TONG-HYUNG, Associated Press

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has convened a key political conference where he is expected to review major state affairs, including the fight against COVID-19, and possibly address foreign relations with Washington and Seoul amid nuclear revival.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said on Thursday that Kim chaired a plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee that began in the country’s capital, Pyongyang, on Wednesday and could last several days.

The meeting comes amid signs that North Korea is continuing preparations for its first nuclear test in nearly five years, which would further aggravate a series of provocations in weapons demonstrations this year, which have included several tests involving intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Korea’s Central News Agency said in a brief report that meeting attendees – seen in photos walking through a party building in long lines – unanimously approved the agenda presented for discussion, which was not specified.

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State media previously said the meeting would review state affairs, likely including national efforts to slow an outbreak of COVID-19 in a largely unvaccinated population of 26 million, and make decisions on a “set of important questions”. South Korean officials and experts said Kim could possibly use the meeting to address relations with the United States and compete with South Korea amid stalled diplomacy and reaffirm his ambitions to build an arsenal. nuclear power that could viably threaten U.S. regional allies and the American homeland.

At the previous North Korean party plenum in December, Kim reiterated his vow to strengthen its military nuclear program and order the production of more powerful and sophisticated weapon systems in talks that lasted a record five days. .

The North Korean meeting came as U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Seoul on Wednesday, emphasizing trilateral security cooperation amid accelerating the North Korean threat. She warned of a “quick and forceful response” if the North carried out a nuclear test, but did not give details.

Sherman’s visit to Asia came after North Korea, in its biggest one-day test event, launched eight ballistic missiles into the sea from multiple locations on Sunday, prompting the United States and its Asian allies to respond with tit-for-tat and aerial missile launches. demonstrations involving dozens of fighter planes.

Shaking an old pattern of precariousness, North Korea has already set an annual ballistic launch record in the first half of 2022, firing 31 missiles in 18 different launch events, including its first ICBM demonstrations since 2017.

The unusually fast pace of testing activity underscores Kim’s dual intent to advance his arsenal and pressure the Biden administration over long-running negotiations to leverage its nuclear weapons for economic benefits and concessions. essential safety measures, according to experts.

Kim could raise the bar as soon as US and South Korean officials say North Korea has all but completed preparations to detonate a nuclear device at its testing ground in the northeast city of Punggye-ri from the country. The site had been inactive since hosting the North’s sixth nuclear test in September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb designed for its ICBMs.

With a new test, North Korea could claim to have acquired the ability to build a bomb small enough to be clustered on a multi-warhead ICBM or Kim’s growing range of short-range solid-fuel missiles threatening South Korea. and Japan, according to analysts.

While the Biden administration has said it will push for additional sanctions if North Korea conducts another nuclear test, the prospects for meaningful punitive measures are unclear, with the United Nations Security Council divided on Russia’s war against Ukraine. Russia and China have vetoed US-sponsored resolutions that would have increased sanctions on North Korea for some of its major missile tests this year, insisting Washington should focus on revival dialogue with Pyongyang.

Nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over an easing of crippling sanctions imposed by the United States in exchange for North Korean disarmament measures, which underlined the Kim’s reluctance to hand over an arsenal he considers his best guarantee of survival.

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