Kim Jong Un vows to launch 3 more spy satellites, produce more nuclear materials in 2024

Kim also ordered authorities to enhance submarine capabilities

File photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un | Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP File photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un | Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP

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 US-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 US 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 US to win sanctions relief if former President Donald Trump returns to the White House.

During the five-day meeting that ended Saturday, Kim said anti-North Korea moves by the United States and its followers have been unprecedented this year, pushing the Korean Peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. Kim cited the expansion of US-South Korean military exercises and the temporary deployment of powerful US military assets such as bombers and a nuclear-armed submarine in South Korea - steps the allies have taken in response to the North's weapons testing spree since last year.

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 build more nuclear weapons, an apparent reference to facilities to produce fissile materials like weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium. 

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 US 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. 

The Kim regime has closed the political door on denuclearization negotiations but could offer rhetorical restraint and a testing freeze in exchange for sanctions relief, Easley said. 

Although North Korea has no intention of giving up nuclear weapons, it might try to extract payment for acting like a so-called responsible nuclear power.

Kim has been focusing on modernizing his nuclear arsenal since his diplomacy with Trump, then the US 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 US is preoccupied with the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas fighting.

Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University in South Korea, said if President Joe Biden is reelected, North Korea won't get what it wants. But he predicted a Trump win could revive summit diplomacy between the two countries, saying Trump will likely say during his campaign that he can convince North Korea to suspend intimidating weapons tests.

He said Kim's vow to ramp up production of plutonium and uranium is meant to add to his negotiating cards in potential diplomacy with the Americans. 

Nam said North Korea will also test-launch more intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the continental US this year. North Korea will act to the fullest extent under its timetable for provocation until the US election day, Nam said.

During his speech at the party meeting, Kim used bellicose, derisive rhetoric against South Korea, calling it a half-paralyzed, deformed US 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 speculated that limited armed clashes between the Koreas along their tense land and sea border could happen in the coming year. 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 US presidential election in November. 

Kim also maintained that North Korea must solidify cooperation with anti-imperialist, independent countries that he said oppose US-led Western hegemony.

Kim didn't mention those countries by name. But North Korea has been seeking to beef up its cooperation with Russia and China, which have repeatedly blocked the US and others' attempts to toughen UN sanctions on the North over its banned missile tests. The US and South Korea accuse North Korea of supplying conventional arms like artillery and ammunition to Russia in return for high-tech Russian technologies to boost its own military programs.

Meanwhile, Kim said during the meeting that North Korea made eye-opening" achievements on economic projects this year by fulfilling or exceeding set quotas in major areas such as farming, housing construction and fisheries. The claim cannot be independently confirmed, and Nam, the professor, said the self-praise appears aimed at burnishing Kim's image as a leader who cares about public livelihoods as well as military issues.

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