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Kim Jong-un says North Korea will use nuclear weapons ‘at any time’ if threatened

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has vowed to move faster in bolstering his nuclear forces and threatened to use them if provoked in a speech during a military parade that featured powerful weapons systems that could be used to target the country’s rivals.

His remarks suggest he will continue provocative weapons tests in a pressure campaign to wrest concessions from the US and its allies. The parade on Monday night was to mark the 90th anniversary of North Korea’s army – the backbone of the Kim family’s authoritarian rule – and was held as the country’s economy is battered by pandemic-related difficulties, punishing US led sanctions and its own mismanagement.

State media photos showed Kim, dressed in a white military ceremonial coat, smiling and waving from a balcony along with his wife, Ri Sol-ju, and other top deputies.

“[We] will continue to take measures for further developing the nuclear forces of our state at the fastest possible speed,” Kim told his troops and the crowd gathered for the parade at a Pyongyang plaza, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

He repeated an earlier message that North Korea could pre-emptively use its nuclear weapons when threatened by attacks and called for his nuclear forces to be fully prepared to go “in motion at any time”.

“The fundamental mission of our nuclear forces is to deter a war, but our nukes can never be confined to the single mission of war deterrent even at a time when a situation we are not desirous of at all is created on this land,” Kim said. “If any forces try to violate the fundamental interests of our state, our nuclear forces will have to decisively accomplish its unexpected second mission”, which would leave any invading force “perished”, he said.

The parade featured thousands of goose-stepping troops shouting “hurrah!” and some of North Korea’s most powerful missiles. Some intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) could put the US homeland well within range, and a variety of shorter-range solid-fuel missiles pose a growing threat to South Korea and Japan

North Korea has conducted 13 rounds of weapons tests this year. There are also signs North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground that was last active in 2017, possibly in preparation for exploding a nuclear device.

In 2017, North Korea claimed to have acquired an ability to launch nuclear strikes on the US mainland after a torrid run of nuclear and missile tests. North Korea had halted such high-profile tests before it entered the now-dormant diplomacy with the US.

Kim’s aggressive military push could be motivated by domestic politics since he does not otherwise have significant accomplishments to show to his people as he marks a decade in power. He failed to win badly needed sanctions relief from his diplomacy with then-President Donald Trump, and the Covid-19 pandemic unleashed further shocks to the country’s broken economy, forcing him to acknowledge last year that North Korea was facing its “worst-ever situation”.

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