North Korean leader plans to step up nuclear programme

Kim tells Workers’ Party congress years that North Korea won’t take a strike-first attitude

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told a rare congress of the country's ruling Workers' Party that he plans to step up its nuclear weapons programme in defiance of United Nations sanctions, but that would not strike first unless threatened.

At the first Workers’ Party congress in 36 years, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reiterated his policy of “byeongjin”, which calls for developing the country’s nuclear programme and its economy at the same time.

At the gathering in the April 25th House of Culture, Mr Kim said North Korea was a "responsible nuclear weapons state" and would not use nuclear arms first unless its sovereignty is threatened.

“We will consistently take hold on the strategic line of simultaneously pushing forward the economic construction and the building of nuclear force and boost self-defensive nuclear force both in quality and quantity as long as the imperialists persist in their nuclear threat and arbitrary practices,” he said, in remarks carried by the official North Korean news agency, KCNA.


There are 3,467 voting delegates attending the congress, which is expected to last four or five days.

With the congress, Mr Kim aims to solidify his leadership. He became leader in 2011 after the death of his father Kim Jong-il and is the third Kim to run the isolated country since founding father Kim Il-sung.

North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January, and Pyongyang followed that with launches of various missiles that it hopes will eventually be able to deliver a nuclear warhead.

Since the latest round of UN resolutions, North Korea has continued to engage in nuclear and missile development, and claimed that it had succeeded in miniaturising a nuclear warhead and launching a submarine-based ballistic missile.

Nearly 30,000 US troops are based in South Korea and the two Koreas are still technically at war after the 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice, not a treaty.

In events at a stadium in Pyongyang, the North Koreans mobilised thousands of young members of the Korean Children’s Union (KCU) and the Kim Il-sung Socialist Youth League to congratulate Mr Kim on the success of the event, the Rodong Sinmun, the official organ of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), reported.

In response, South Korea condemned the North’s claim to being a nuclear weapons state, saying it would continue to exert pressure on Pyongyang until it abandons its nuclear ambitions.

North Korea is believed by western experts to have about 40 kilograms of plutonium, enough to build eight to 12 nuclear weapons.

Seoul has stepped up its defences, focusing on a set of missile detection and defence systems, known as the Kill Chain and the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD), with the aim of putting them into service in the mid-2020s.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes was detained with his crew en route to the airport and has been expelled.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing