Kim vows to launch 3 more spy satellites

IN THIs photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a speech during a year-end plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party, which was held between Dec. 26, and Dec. 30, 2023, in Pyongyang, North Korea.  / AP
IN THIs photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a speech during a year-end plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party, which was held between Dec. 26, and Dec. 30, 2023, in Pyongyang, North Korea. / AP

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to launch three additional military spy satellites, produce more nuclear materials and introduce modern attack drones in 2024, as he called for “overwhelming” war readiness to cope with U.S.-led confrontational moves, state media reported Sunday.

Kim’s comments, made during a key ruling Workers’ Party meeting to set state goals for next year, suggest he’ll intensify a run of weapons tests ahead of the U.S. presidential elections in November. Observers say Kim believes a boosted nuclear capability would give him another chance to launch high-stakes summit diplomacy with the U.S. to win sanctions relief if former President Donald Trump returns to the White House.

During the five-day meeting that ended Saturday, Kim said moves by the United States and its followers against North Korea have been unprecedented this year, pushing the Korean Peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

“The grave situation requires us to accelerate works to acquire overwhelming war response capabilities and thorough and perfect military readiness to suppress any types of provocations by the enemies at a stroke,” Kim said, according to KCNA.

Kim set forth plans to launch three more military spy satellites next year in addition to the country’s first reconnaissance satellite launched in November. He underscored the need to establish “a reliable foundation” to increase North Korea’s number of nuclear weapons, an apparent reference to facilities to produce fissile materials like weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

Submarine capabilites

Kim also ordered authorities to enhance submarine capabilities and develop various types of modern unmanned combat equipment such as armed drones, according to KCNA.

“Pyongyang might be waiting out the U.S. presidential election to see what its provocations can buy it with the next administration,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

Kim has been focusing on modernizing his nuclear arsenal since his diplomacy with Trump, then the U.S. president, broke down in 2019 due to wrangling over how much sanctions relief the North could be given for a partial surrender of its nuclear program. Experts say Kim likely thinks that Trump, if elected for a second term, could make concessions as the U.S. is preoccupied with the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas fighting.

Since last year, North Korea has test-fired more than 100 ballistic missiles, many of them nuclear-capable weapons targeting the mainland U.S. and South Korea, in violation of U.N. bans. The United States and South Korea responded by expanding their military exercises and deploying U.S. strategic assets such as bombers, aircraft carriers and a nuclear-armored submarine in South Korea. North Korea calls the moves U.S.-led invasion rehearsals.

‘More provocations’

South Korea’s spy agency said last week that North Korea will likely launch military provocations and cyberattacks ahead of South Korean parliamentary elections in April and the U.S. presidential election in November.

During his speech at the party meeting, Kim used bellicose, derisive rhetoric against South Korea, calling it “a half-paralyzed, deformed U.S. colony” with “Yankee culture.” He said South Korea must not be considered as a partner for reconciliation or unification.

He ordered the military to use all available capabilities including nuclear to conquer South Korea in the event of a potential conflict.

Some analysts have predicted that limited armed clashes between the Koreas along their tense land and sea border could happen in the coming year.

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