North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un has vowed to his country will continue to mass-produce nuclear warheads and missiles in a defiant New Year message on Monday suggesting he would continue to accelerate a rogue weapons programme that has stoked international tensions in recent times.
Kim Jong-Un said in his New Year message on Monday that he always had a nuclear launch button on his desk, having presided over multiple missile tests in recent months and the North Korea’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test — which it said was a hydrogen bomb — in September.
“We must mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles and speed up their deployment,” said Kim in his annual address to the nation.
He reiterated his claims that North Korea had achieved its goal of becoming a nuclear state but insisted its expansion of the weapons programme was a defensive measure.
“We should always keep readiness to take immediate nuclear counter-attacks against the enemy’s scheme for a nuclear war.”
Pyongyang dramatically ramped up its efforts to become a nuclear power in 2017, despite a raft of international sanctions and increasingly bellicose rhetoric from the United States.
The North claims it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself from a hostile Washington and has strived to create a warhead capable of targeting the US mainland.
US President Donald Trump has responded to each test with his own amplified declarations, threatening to “totally destroy” Pyongyang and taunting Kim, saying the North Korean leader was on “a suicide mission”.
But far from persuading Kim to give up his nuclear drive, analysts say Trump’s tough talk may have prompted the North Korean leader to push through with his dangerous quest.
“(The North) can cope with any kind of nuclear threats from the US and has a strong nuclear deterrence that is able to prevent the US from playing with fire,” Kim said Monday.
“The nuclear button is always on my table. The US must realize this is not blackmail but reality.”
In December the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed new, US-drafted sanctions against Pyongyang, restricting oil supplies vital for the impoverished state.
The third raft of sanctions imposed last year, which the North slammed as an “act of war”, also received the backing of China — the country’s sole major ally and economic lifeline.
Observers say Washington must open talks with the North to defuse tensions — but that remains a challenge.
Pyongyang has always said it will only deal with the US from a position of equality as a nuclear state.
Washington has long insisted that it will not accept a nuclear-armed North and Pyongyang must embark on a path towards denuclearization before any talks.