SEOUL • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has hosted a meeting to discuss the country's nuclear capabilities, state media said yesterday, marking his first reported public appearance in three weeks.
The meeting came after US media said late last week that US President Donald Trump's administration had discussed holding the first US nuclear test in decades.
Mr Kim's meeting - which came amid stalled denuclearisation talks with the United States - discussed steps to bolster Pyongyang's armed forces and "reliably contain the persistent big or small military threats from the hostile forces", state news agency KCNA reported.
The meeting discussed "increasing the nuclear war deterrence of the country and putting the strategic armed forces on a high alert operation", adopting "crucial measures for considerably increasing the firepower strike ability of the artillery pieces".
It also reviewed and analysed "a series of drawbacks in military and political activities" and discussed ways for "drastic improvement".
The date of the meeting was not given, but a separate KCNA dispatch from the same meeting reported a military order signed by Mr Kim was issued on May 23.
A photo in the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed Mr Kim wielding a long stick and pointing to what looked to be a blurred-out TV screen while making a presentation to a room full of uniformed officers.
Ruling Workers' Party officials wore face masks to greet Mr Kim as he entered the meeting of the Central Military Commission, images on state television showed.
But no one including Mr Kim was seen wearing a mask. The officials were also seated close to each other despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The meeting marked Mr Kim's first reported public appearance in over 20 days, after he reappeared following an earlier three-week absence that triggered intense global speculation about his health.
Mr Kim has made an unusually small number of outings in the past two months, with a notable absence from a key anniversary, as Pyongyang stepped up measures against the pandemic.
North Korea says it has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus, but South Korea's intelligence agency has said it cannot rule out that the North has had an outbreak.
US-led negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes have made little progress since late last year, especially after a global battle on the deadly virus began.
The intention in Washington for pondering such a move may be to pressure Russia and China to improve arms control commitments and enforcement. But not only might this tack encourage more nuclear risk-taking by those countries, it could provide Pyongyang an excuse for its next provocation.
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR LEIF-ERIC EASLEY, who teaches international studies at Ewha Womans University, on reports that the United States could conduct its first full-fledged nuclear test since 1992, while North Korea has pledged to boost its nuclear capabilities.
Meanwhile, China's top diplomat Wang Yi expressed hope yesterday that the US and North Korea could resume meaningful dialogue as soon as possible "and not squander away the hard-earned results of (previous) engagement".
North Korea's pledge to boost its nuclear capabilities coincides with news reports that the US might hold its first full-fledged nuclear test since 1992, noted associate professor Leif-Eric Easley, who teaches international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
"The intention in Washington for pondering such a move may be to pressure Russia and China to improve arms-control commitments and enforcement," Prof Easley said.
"But not only might this tack encourage more nuclear risk-taking by those countries, it could provide Pyongyang an excuse for its next provocation," he added.
Mr Daryl Kimball, executive director of the US-based Arms Control Association, told the Washington Post that the US decision would likely "disrupt" negotiations with Mr Kim, "who may no longer feel compelled to honour his moratorium on nuclear testing".
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE