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N Korea at crossroads

North Korea hints at resuming nuclear, ICBM tests to counter U.S.

Ruling party says country should take 'practical action' to increase strength

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- North Korea on Thursday hinted at resuming nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, saying it may restart "activities" that it had temporarily suspended to build trust with former U.S. President Donald Trump.

A key ruling party gathering held Wednesday concluded that North Korea should take "practical action to more reliably and effectively increase our physical strength" to counter the United States, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who held talks with Trump three times, presided over the meeting held by the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, according to KCNA.

The party also decided to "significantly" celebrate the 110th anniversary of the birth of North Korea's late founder Kim Il Sung on April 15 and the 80th anniversary of the birth of his son, the late former leader Kim Jong Il, on Feb. 16. Foreign affairs experts warn that North Korea might conduct an ICBM or nuclear test on the occasion of the anniversaries. Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are current leader Kim Jong Un's grandfather and father, respectively.

At the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit in June 2018 in Singapore, Washington promised to provide security guarantees to Pyongyang in return for "complete" denuclearization of the country. Since then, North Korea has refrained from nuclear and ICBM tests.

Pyongyang, however, has argued that Washington has not implemented the agreement despite North Korea taking what it says are concrete measures to discard its nuclear arsenal.

North Korea has recently carried out test-firings of what appeared to be short-range ballistic missiles in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning Pyongyang from developing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

In November 2017, North Korea launched what it said was its "most powerful" ICBM, capable of delivering a nuclear warhead anywhere in the continental United States. Kim Jong Un then declared the completion of "the state nuclear force."

Pyongyang's last nuclear test, its sixth, took place in September 2017. Trump urged the North Korean leader to scrap all of the nation's nuclear facilities, including undeclared ones, but it is uncertain whether Pyongyang has dismantled them.

Direct talks between the United States and North Korea have been at a standstill for more than two years, with the administration of President Joe Biden unlikely to make concessions over denuclearization and sanctions relief.

North Korea has expressed unwillingness to hold bilateral negotiations with the United States unless Washington withdraws what Pyongyang considers to be its hostile stance. The two countries have no diplomatic relations.

Earlier this month, North Korea lambasted the United States for expanding sanctions following Pyongyang's missile tests, saying that beefing up its national defense capabilities is the legitimate right of a sovereign state.

North Korea's economy, meanwhile, has been languishing further in the aftermath of the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus, with Kim Jong Un acknowledging that the nuclear-armed nation has faced a serious food crisis.

With North Korea taking strict anti-epidemic steps such as closing its borders, its trade with China plummeted around 90 percent in 2021 from 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

North Korea claims no domestic infection cases have been found, but it cut off land traffic to and from China until earlier this month with fears growing that the virus, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, could enter the country.

In addition to a plunge in trade with China, devastation of the country's farm sector caused by powerful typhoons and flooding has also sparked concern that North Korean citizens may not be receiving adequate food and other daily necessities.

North Korea's latest provocative remarks against the United States may have been aimed at bringing the Biden administration to the negotiating table to discuss sanctions relief by intensifying security tensions in the region, some pundits say.

Other observers say North Korea has been trying to steadily develop new weapons based on the decisions made at the first congress of the ruling party in five years in January 2021.

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