North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned Saturday that his country would “fully mobilize” its nuclear force if threatened as he took center stage at a military parade in which the country unveiled what appeared to be a new intercontinental ballistic missile and other additions to its growing weapons arsenal.
Kim, however, avoided direct criticism of Washington during the event, which celebrated the 75th anniversary of the country’s ruling party.
Kim described the North’s continuing efforts to develop its nuclear arsenal as necessary for its defense and said it wasn’t targeting any specific country with its military force.
But “if any force harms the safety of our nation, we will fully mobilize the strongest offensive might in a preemptive manner to punish them,” he said.
Kim’s speech was punctuated by thousands of troops, tanks, armored vehicles, rocket launchers and a broad range of ballistic missiles rolled out in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square.
The weapons included what was possibly the North’s biggest missile yet, which was mounted on an 11-axle launch vehicle that was also seen for the first time.
The country also displayed what could be an advanced version of its Pukguksong family of missiles designed to be fired from submarines or land mobile launchers.
The missiles highlighted how North Korea has continued to expand its military capabilities amid a stalemate in nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration.
Kim had previously expressed frustration over the slow diplomacy, pledging in December that he would continue to bolster his nuclear arsenal in the face of U.S. pressure and soon unveil a “new strategic weapon to the world.”
The probable ICBM paraded Saturday was clearly the new strategic weapon Kim had promised to show, according to Melissa Hanham, deputy director of the Austria-based Open Nuclear Network.
North Korea had already demonstrated a potential ability to reach deep into the U.S. mainland with an ICBM flight test in 2017, and developing a larger missile possibly means the country is trying to arm its long-range weapons with more warheads, she said.
“North Korea is pushing ahead with its nuclear strategy regardless of the tough year that it has had with regard to diplomatic talks, flooding from typhoons and COVID-19,” Hanham said in a telephone interview.
“I also think that this is a message to the United States — he has already declared he no longer holds himself to the moratorium and he has something new as well he may wish to test.”
The celebratory event, which began late Friday, was not broadcast by North Korean state television until Saturday evening, when it aired a taped broadcast.
Troops and a military band were seen marching in the streets in front of a brightly illuminated Kim Il Sung Square.
The performers and tens of thousands of spectators roared as Kim, dressed in a gray suit and tie, appeared from a building as the clock struck midnight.
Kim, flanked with senior officials and smiling widely, waved to the crowd and kissed children who presented him with flowers before taking his spot on a balcony.
During his speech, Kim seemed to tear up at one point as he repeatedly thanked his “great people” and military for overcoming “unexpected” burdens.
He also extended an olive branch to rival South Korea, expressing hope that the countries can repair ties. The North had suspended virtually all cooperation with the South amid the stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations with the United States.
After the speech, Kim waved and watched with binoculars as the military hardware was rolled out in the square.
He saluted as fighter jets flew in formation overhead, using fireworks to form the Workers’ Party’s symbol — a hammer, brush and sickle — and the number 75 in the sky.
Earlier Saturday, masked citizens lined up to lay flowers at the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the father of the current ruler, at Pyongyang’s Mansu Hill. A huge street poster read “Best glory to our great party.”
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said residents in Kaesong and other regions who had lost their homes to recent natural disasters marked the party anniversary by moving into newly built houses and that they praised Kim Jong Un for looking after them as “their father.”
Authoritarian North Korea is keen about anniversaries, and this week’s festivities were earmarked years in advance as a major event to glorify Kim.
But there hasn’t been much to celebrate lately.
Kim is struggling to keep afloat an economy crippled by years of stringent U.S.-led sanctions over his nuclear program and ravaged further this year by border closures amid the coronavirus pandemic and devastating summer floods and typhoons that will likely worsen chronic food shortages.
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