North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has promoted his younger sister Kim Yo-jong to the country’s decision-making political bureau as it gears up for the founding anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party this week.
The move was announced hours after US president Donald Trump said "only one thing will work" in dealing with North Korea.
Mr Kim also beefed up the influential military commission, which has been influential in backing the country’s nuclear weapons programme, with one of his top advisers, Choe Ryong-hae.
Speaking to a Workers’ Party convention on Saturday, Mr Kim hailed the country’s nuclear weapons programme as “a precious fruition borne by its people’s bloody struggle for defending the destiny and sovereignty of the country from the protracted nuclear threats of the US imperialists.”
North Korea is under UN sanctions as a result of a series of missile launches and nuclear tests, and Mr Trump's remark at the weekend that "only one thing will work" in dealing with Pyongyang was seen as a reference to military action.
The North had been expected to ratchet up the rhetoric ahead of the founding anniversary of the party, which falls on October 10th. Pyongyang fired two missiles over Japan and conducted its sixth nuclear test, and there are fears of more actions around the anniversary. The regime appears to be making fast progress towards developing a nuclear warhead-tipped missile that is capable of hitting the continental United States.
Long-range missile test
On Friday, Russian parliamentarian Anton Morozov, returning from a visit to North Korea, said he thought the country was gearing up for a long-range missile test.
Mr Kim also promoted two of the three chief architects of the country’s rocket programme, Kim Jong-sik and Ri Pyong-chol. Mr Kim spoke of how the “national economy has grown on their strength this year” despite international sanctions.
Choe Ryong-hae, 67, is vice-chairman of the party and has long been seen as one of the closest associates of Mr Kim in the party, the Yonhap news agency reported, although he was believed to have fallen out of favour, apparently for mishandling a hydroelectric power project in 2015.
The appointment of Kim Yo-jong as an alternate member of the politburo, of which her brother is president, makes her probably the most influential woman in North Korea along with Kim Jong-un’s wife, Ri Sol-ju.
It also marks a further tightening of dynastic control of North Korea, which is now in its third generation of rule by the Kim family. Kim Yo-jong and Kim Jong-un share the same mother, Ko Yong-hui. Kim Yo-jong was educated in Switzerland with her older brother. There is some disagreement as to her age but she is either 28 or 30 years of age. She will most likely replace their aunt Kim Kyong-hee, who was close to the siblings' father Kim Jong-il.
The siblings' half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, was assassinated at Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur airport in February.