Kim threatens to use nukes amid tensions with US and South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has warned that he is prepared to use his nuclear weapons in possible military conflicts with the United States and South Korea, officials said Thursday. state media as he unleashed fiery rhetoric against his rivals who he says are pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of war.

Kim’s speech to veterans on the 69th anniversary of the end of the 1950-53 Korean War was apparently aimed at bolstering internal unity in the impoverished country amid pandemic-related economic hardship. While Kim has increasingly threatened his rivals with nuclear weapons, he is unlikely to use them first against the senior military of the United States and its allies, observers say.

“Our armed forces are fully prepared to respond to any crisis, and our nation’s nuclear war deterrent is also ready to mobilize its absolute power conscientiously, exactly, and promptly in accordance with its mission,” Kim said in his speech Wednesday. according to the Korean official press release. Central News Agency.

He accused the United States of “demonizing” North Korea to justify its hostile policies. He said the U.S.-South Korean military drills targeting North Korea showed the “double standards” and “gangster” aspects of the U.S., as they branded North Korea’s routine military activities – an apparent reference to his missile tests – provocations or threats.

Kim also alleged that the new South Korean government of President Yoon Suk Yeol is run by “confrontational maniacs” and “gangsters” who have gone further than previous conservative South Korean governments. Since taking office in May, the Yoon government has moved to bolster Seoul’s military alliance with the United States and enhance its ability to neutralize North Korean nuclear threats, including a preemptive strike capability.

“Talking about military action against our nation, which has absolute weapons that they fear the most, is absurd and is a very dangerous suicidal action,” Kim said. “Such a dangerous attempt will be immediately punished by our powerful force, and Yoon Suk Yeol’s government and its army will be wiped out.”

Moon Hong-sik, deputy spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry, reiterated a previous position on Thursday that South Korea had strengthened its military capacity and joint defense posture with the United States to deal with the escalation of North Korean nuclear threats. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military remained firmly ready.

In April, Kim said North Korea could use nuclear weapons preemptively if threatened, saying it “would never be confined to the sole mission of war deterrence.” Kim’s army has also tested nuclear-capable missiles that put both the continental United States and South Korea within striking range. US and South Korean officials have repeatedly said in recent months that North Korea is ready to conduct its first nuclear test in five years.

Kim is seeking greater public support as his country’s economy has been battered by pandemic-related border closures, U.S. sanctions and his own mismanagement. In May, North Korea also admitted its first outbreak of COVID-19, although the scale of illness and death is widely disputed in a country that lacks modern medical capacity. to manipulate it.

“Kim’s rhetoric inflates external threats to justify his military and economically struggling regime,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are in violation of international law, but Kim is trying to portray his destabilizing weapons buildup as a righteous self-defense effort.”

Experts say North Korea will likely step up its threats against the United States and South Korea as allies prepare to expand summer drills. In recent years, the South Korean and American militaries have canceled or reduced some of their regular exercises due to concerns about COVID-19 and to support the now stalled US-led diplomacy aimed at convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for economic and political benefits.

During Wednesday’s speech, Kim said his government had recently set tasks to improve its military capacity more quickly to respond to military pressure campaigns by its enemies, suggesting it intended to carry out a nuclear test. expected.

But Cheong Seong-Chang, of the private Sejong Institute in South Korea, said North Korea was unlikely to conduct its nuclear test until China, its main ally and biggest aid benefactor, does not hold its Communist Party congress in the fall. He said China was concerned that a North Korean nuclear test would give the United States justification to strengthen its security partnerships with its allies which it could use to control Chinese influence in the region.

North Korea recently said it was poised to ride out the COVID-19 outbreak amid plummeting fever cases, but experts say it’s unclear whether the country can lift soon its strict restrictions as it could face a viral resurgence later this year. At Wednesday’s event, Kim, veterans and others did not wear masks, state media photos showed. On Thursday, North Korea reported 11 cases of fever, a huge drop from the peak of around 400,000 a day in May.

North Korea has rejected US and South Korean offers of medical relief items. He also said he would not resume talks with the United States unless he first abandoned his hostile policies on the North, in an apparent reference to US-led sanctions and drills. South Korean-American military.

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