North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said this week that there were no longer grounds for Pyongyang to be bound by a self-declared moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear bomb testing and that a "new strategic weapon" would be introduced in the near future.
Still, despite the harsh rhetoric, Kim gave no clear indication of an imminent resumption of nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests, and even appeared to leave the door open for eventual negotiations, saying that "the scope and depth of bolstering our deterrent will be properly coordinated depending on the US future attitude".
Kim also told party officials the country would be unveiling a "new strategic weapon" in the near future. His arsenal is now estimated to include 40-50 nuclear bombs and various delivery systems, including solid-fuel missiles created to beat missile-defense systems and developmental ICBMs potentially capable of reaching the USA mainland.
He has also strengthened his negotiating position, moving the diplomacy closer to an arms reduction negotiation between nuclear states rather than talks that would culminate in a unilateral surrender of the weapons he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival. "North Korea's new "strategic weapon" might not be ready", Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said.
Robert Carlin, a North Korea expert at the Stimson Centre thinktank in Washington, said: "The main points, nearly certainly, were not headlines about weapons development or a possible resumption of testing".
Denuclearization talks have been stalled since the second summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump ended without an agreement due to wide differences over how to match Pyongyang's denuclearization measures and Washington's sanctions relief.
Mr. Trump, who has met Mr. Kim three times, has often cited the North's restraint as a major diplomatic achievement. Both have called for the U.N. Security Council to consider easing sanctions on the North to spur progress in nuclear negotiations.
Pompeo did indicate for the first time that Trump had promised to cancel large-scale allied military exercises in return for Kim's promise to refrain from nuclear and ICBM tests - a poor deal, given that North Korea is prohibited by 11 United Nations resolutions from conducting nuclear or any missile launch regardless of range. "Non-proliferation remains a fundamental pillar of global nuclear security and must be preserved", spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
"Diplomatic engagement is the only pathway to sustainable peace".
The North has threatened to take a "new way" if Washington fails to offer concessions in their denuclearization talks before the end of previous year, hinting that Pyongyang would end diplomacy and revert to provocative acts. "And he's announcing a new direction to enhance the country's nuclear and missile capabilities".
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"It is true that we urgently need an environment that is favorable for economic development, but we can never sell our dignity, which we have so far defended as valuable as our own lives, in the hope of a brilliant transformation", Kim was quoted.
The United States should resume full-scale military exercises with South Korea in response to the North's threat to unveil a "new strategic weapon", former national security adviser John Bolton said in a tweet recently.
Trump late Tuesday urged Kim to stick to his alleged commitment to denuclearize.
The two leaders made a vague promise to work toward the "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" during their first summit in Singapore.
"I think he's a man of his word", he said, as he headed into New Year events in Florida. "But he did sign a contract, he did sign an agreement talking about denuclearization".
After a four-day Korea Workers' Party plenum meeting, North Korea left the door to negotiations open the tiniest of cracks, with the "scope and depth" of its nuclear and missile deterrent contingent on a dramatically altered USA policy. However, observers said that Kim has continued to expand its arsenal despite the end of long-range and nuclear tests.
The decision was a concession to the North, which has long demanded the cancellation of the drills because it considers them a rehearsal for an invasion. However, a second historic meeting was held at the DMZ where President Trump crossed into North Korea.
All of the North's state media gave prominent coverage to Mr. Kim's remarks, indicating that they may have replaced an annual New Year's Day speech that he had been expected to deliver.
"It means preparing the economy and the people for a long-term confrontation with the U.S.".