PYONGYANG • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told a rare ruling party congress that his country will not use nuclear weapons unless its sovereignty is infringed by other nuclear powers, and said he wants improved relations with previously "hostile" nations.
He also extended an olive branch to the South, saying both sides should respect each other and join hands to open a new chapter for improving inter-Korea ties and the campaign for national reunification.
The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war since their 1950-1953 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
Speaking to thousands of delegates gathered for the first Workers' Party congress in 36 years, Mr Kim also announced a new five-year plan to boost the impoverished country's moribund economy and "revitalise" people's lifestyles.
His remarks last Saturday, the second day of the congress, came amid growing concerns that the North might be on the verge of conducting a fifth nuclear test.
Foreign media invited to Pyongyang to cover the event had yet to be granted access to the proceedings.
In its usual mercurial style, Pyongyang yesterday told foreign journalists to dress presentably and took them to the People's Palace of Culture, where dozens of black Mercedes-Benz sedans, with the 727 number plates reserved for top government officials, were parked.
However, after a one-hour wait in a lobby outside large wooden doors with frosted glass, the journalists were taken back to their hotel without having met any officials.
Then a "special" announcement was flagged on state television, which turned out to be a recording of the North Korean leader's speech on Saturday to the party congress - a transcript of which had already been published by state media.
In the past, notice of such a "special and important" announcement has preceded major events, such as a nuclear test or even the death of a top leader.
Mr Kim, 33, had opened the congress last Friday with a defiant defence of the nuclear weapons programme, praising the "magnificent... and thrilling" test of what Pyongyang claimed was a powerful hydrogen bomb on Jan 6.
But his report to the conclave the next day stressed that North Korea was also a "responsible nuclear weapons state" with an arsenal built for deterrence.
"Our republic will not use a nuclear weapon unless its sovereignty is encroached upon by any aggressive hostile forces with nukes," he said, according to an English translation of his speech by the North's official Korean Central News Agency yesterday.
In his address, Mr Kim also said that North Korea would seek to improve and normalise relations with previously "hostile" countries, amid speculation that Pyongyang might renew its push for talks with Washington.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, XINHUA