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Kim Jong Un calls for national defense boost at party congress

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sits in front of a row of microphones and next to a North Korean flag

According to state news agency KCNA on Saturday, Kim said Washington's hostile policies would not change regardless of who occupied the White House but dropping those policies would be key to North Korea-US relations.

Instead, he said his plans to bolster the country's nuclear "war deterrent" was meant to gain leverage in dealing with Washington and its allies in order to "drive diplomacy in the right direction and guarantee its success" in achieving "peace" on the Korean Peninsula.

The North also boasted of a new nuclear-powered submarine, saying that it has completed the research design and it is in the stage of final examination.

"Nothing would be more foolish and unsafe than not strengthening our might tirelessly and having an easy-going attitude at a time when we clearly see the enemy's state-of-the-art weapons are being increased more than ever", Mr Kim said.

"Whoever takes office in the USA, its basic nature and hostile policy will never change", he said.

The eighth congress of the ruling Workers' Party came amid a prolonged gridlock in talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes in return for USA sanction relief.

The change of leadership in Washington presents a challenge for Pyongyang, which has previously called Biden a "rabid dog", while he characterized Kim as a "thug" during the presidential debates.

"The reality shows that we need to strengthen the national defense capabilities without a moment of hesitation to deter the United States' nuclear threats and to bring peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula", KCNA said.

Ignoring warnings from the worldwide community, Kim has continued to weaponize the nation by equipping it with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) carrying nuclear warheads.

After the last congress, Kim accelerated the development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, including those that could reach the US mainland.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks from a podium surrounded by party members dressed in uniform and writing notes
North Korea's ruling Workers' Party held a rare party congress in Pyongyang this week

Mr Biden said in October he would only meet Mr Kim if he decommissioned his nuclear weapons, saying "the Korean peninsula should be a nuclear-free zone".

It is unclear if North Korea is capable of developing such systems. It's one of the world's most cloistered countries, and estimates on the exact status of its nuclear and missile programs vary widely.

"It could presage a return to nuclear testing, which is now on the table given that Kim renounced his April 2018 moratorium", he said.

The country should "further advance nuclear technology" and develop small-sized, lightweight nuclear warheads "to be applied differently depending on target subjects", he added.

The congress, the party's top decision-making body, is being held as Kim faces what appears to be the toughest moment of his nine-year rule due to blows to his already-fragile economy - pandemic-related border closings that have sharply reduced the North's external trade, a spate of natural disasters last summer and USA -led sanctions.

During the session, Kim and the congress attendees also reiterated the party's policy to expand and forge comprehensive relations with neighboring Republic of Korea (ROK) and other nations.

The process with Trump was brokered by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, but Kim said Seoul was in breach of inter-Korean agreements and "and disregarding our warnings that it should stop joint military drills with the US".

During this week's speeches, Kim said North Korea will further boost ties with China, its biggest ally and economic lifeline but slammed South Korea for continuing the drills with the US and introducing modern weapons.

Under the Obama administration, North Korea's increasing nuclear arsenal was a foreign policy issue that didn't find a substantial solution.

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