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(LEAD) N.K. can pose 'substantial' nuclear threat to U.S.: leader

2017/12/22 11:38

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SEOUL, Dec. 22 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said his country has become a strategic nation capable of posing a "substantial" nuclear threat to the United States, state media said Friday.

Kim made the remark as North Korea declared last month that it has completed its nuclear armament after firing a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which it claims can put the whole U.S. mainland within its range.

The North's leader "stressed that nobody can deny the entity of the DPRK which rapidly emerged as a strategic state capable of posing a substantial nuclear threat to the U.S.," the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in an English statement.

Kim made the comment in his opening speech at the fifth conference of cell chairpersons of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) on Thursday. Cell chairpersons are those who lead the WPK's lowest-level units called party cells, which consist of five to 30 members.

This photo, carried by North Korea's newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Dec. 22, 2017, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivering a speech at the conference of party cell chairpersons. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap) This photo, carried by North Korea's newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Dec. 22, 2017, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivering a speech at the conference of party cell chairpersons. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

The gathering came amid heightened tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. Pyongyang conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September and fired ICBMs three times this year.

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to "take care of" North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile threats as he unveiled the first national security strategy of his administration.

The North's leader claimed that the country's rapidly developing nuclear force is "exerting big influence" on the international community.

"Although grave challenges that should not be overlooked face us, we neither feel disappointed nor are afraid of them but are optimistic about progress of our revolution under this situation," he said.

The conference, the first since 2013, was held amid toughened international sanctions over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

Choe Ryong-hae, the de facto No. 2 man in the North, called for party members to be armed with the party ideology and anti-U.S. spirit and to boost their readiness for possible war.

Meanwhile, Kim Yo-jong, the North Korean leader's younger sister, was found sitting on elevated stages at the party event, in a sign of her upgraded political status in the country.

Kim Yo-jong sat in the front line, the fifth left from Kim Jong-un, according to photos unveiled by the WPK's mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun. Only selected key officials are able to sit on such stands along with the ruler at a party event.

She was named an alternate member of the party's politburo, the top decision-making body, at the general assembly of the WPK's central committee in October. The move appears intended to further tighten the Kim family's control over the party.

She was promoted to the post in 17 months after becoming a member of the party's central committee at a party congress in May 2016.

"A woman presumed to be Kim Yo-jong was found sitting on the elevated stand. As she is an alternate party member, the government will closely monitor her status and future movements," Lee Eugene, vice spokesperson at Seoul's unification ministry, told a press briefing.

This photo, carried by North Korea's newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Dec. 22, 2017, shows Kim Yo-jong (red circle), leader Kim Jong-un's younger sister, sitting on elevated stands at the conference of party cell chairpersons. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap) This photo, carried by North Korea's newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Dec. 22, 2017, shows Kim Yo-jong (red circle), leader Kim Jong-un's younger sister, sitting on elevated stands at the conference of party cell chairpersons. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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