North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photograph:( Reuters )
Kim Jong-un also threatened to expand his nuclear arsenal and develop more sophisticated atomic weapons systems, saying the fate of relations with the United States depends on whether it abandons its hostile policy
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Friday called the United States Pyongyang's ''biggest enemy'' as he threw down the diplomatic gauntlet to the incoming administration of Joe Biden.
Kim Jong-un also threatened to expand his nuclear arsenal and develop more sophisticated atomic weapons systems, saying the fate of relations with the United States depends on whether it abandons its hostile policy, state media reported Saturday.
The declaration comes less than two weeks ahead of the new US president's inauguration and after a tumultuous relationship between Kim and the outgoing leader Donald Trump.
The Korean Central News Agency said Saturday that Kim says "key to establishing new relations between (North Korea) and the United States is whether the United States withdraws its hostile policy" from North Korea.
Kim says he won't use his nukes unless "hostile forces" intend to use their nuclear weapons against North Korea first. But he says North Korea must further strengthen its military and nuclear capability as the danger of a US invasion of North Korea increases.
Kim ordered officials to develop missiles with multiple warheads, underwater-launched nuclear missiles, spy satellites and nuclear-powered submarines.
"Nothing would be more foolish and dangerous than not strengthening our might tirelessly and having an easy-going attitude at a time when we clearly see the enemy's state-of-the-art weapons are being increased more than ever," Kim said. "The reality is that we can achieve peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula when we constantly build up our national defence and suppress US military threats."
Kim's high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with President Donald Trump has remained stalled for nearly two years because of disputes over US-led sanctions on the North.
When Kim abruptly entered talks with the US, he expressed his intent to negotiate not advancing nuclear arsenals in return for economic and political benefits. But as long as the diplomatic impasse prolongs, he's openly pledged to expand the nuclear program that he calls a "powerful treasured sword" that can cope with US hostility.
Kim and Trump first engaged in a war of words and mutual threats, before an extraordinary diplomatic bromance that featured headline-grabbing summits and declarations of love by the US president.
But little substantive progress was made, with the process deadlocked after their February 2019 meeting in Hanoi broke down over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.
The change of leadership in Washington presents a challenge for Pyongyang, which has previously called Biden a "rabid dog", while he characterised Kim as a "thug" during the presidential debates.
The US is expected to return to more orthodox diplomatic approaches under Biden, such as insisting on extensive progress at working-level talks before any leaders' summit can be considered.
Kim "sees a stalemate that won't change anytime soon", said Harry Kazianis of the Center for the National Interest.
The process with Trump was brokered by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, but Kim said Seoul was in breach of inter-Korean agreements and "and disregarding our warnings that it should stop joint military drills with the US".
Pyongyang has poured vast resources into developing its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, which it says it needs to defend itself against a possible US invasion.
The programmes have made rapid progress under Kim, including by far its most powerful nuclear blast to date and missiles capable of reaching the entire continental US, at a cost of increasingly stringent international sanctions.
At a military parade in October, it showed off a huge new missile that analysts concurred was the largest road-mobile, liquid-fuelled missile anywhere in the world, and was highly likely to be designed to carry multiple warheads in independent re-entry vehicles (MIRVs).
The North has also completed plans for a nuclear-powered submarine, Kim said something that would change the strategic balance.
Such a weapon, if it was built and went into service, could enable Pyongyang to surreptitiously bring its missiles close to the United States, cutting down warning times ahead of any launch.
Designs for the vessel were "in the stage of final examination", Kim said, adding the North was also researching technology including military reconnaissance satellites, supersonic gliding weapons and various warhead types, and was "making preparations for their test and production".
Kim's declarations came in his nine-hour work report to the meeting, spread over three days, which KCNA was reporting in detail for the first time.
The congress is the top ruling party gathering, a grand political set-piece that reinforces the regime's authority and can serve as a platform for announcements of policy shifts or elite personnel changes.
For several days, state television has been showing images of the 7,000 delegates and attendees packed into the cavernous April 25 House of Culture venue -- none of them wearing masks, repeatedly applauding Kim wildly during his speech.
The gathering comes with North Korea more isolated than ever after closing its borders last January to protect itself against the coronavirus that first emerged in neighbour and key ally China.
That has added to the pressures on the North, with Pyongyang blockading itself far more effectively than even the most hawkish advocate of sanctions could ever hope to achieve, and trade with China at a fraction of the usual level.
In his work report, Kim admitted mistakes had been made in the last five years and that "almost all sectors fell a long way short of the set objectives" in the country's economic plan.