North Korea's Kim Jong Un holds military meeting as tension rises under looming deadline

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during an enlarged meeting of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Military Commission in this photo released by KCNA on Dec 21, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (REUTERS) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a meeting of top military officials to discuss boosting the country's military capability, the state news agency reported on Sunday (Dec 22) amid heightened concern the North may be about to return to confrontation with Washington.

Mr Kim presided over an enlarged meeting of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Military Commission, KCNA news agency said, to discuss steps "to bolster up the overall armed forces of the country... militarily and politically".

"Also discussed were important issues for decisive improvement of the overall national defence and core matters for the sustained and accelerated development of military capability for self-defence," KCNA said.

It did not give details on when the meeting was held nor what was decided.

The commission is North Korea's top military decision-making body. Mr Kim rules the country as its supreme military commander and is the chairman of the commission.

North Korea has set a year-end deadline for the United States to change what it says is a policy of hostility amid a stalemate in efforts to make progress on their pledge to end the North's nuclear programme and establish lasting peace.

Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump have met three times since June 2018, but there has been no substantive progress in dialogue while the North demanded crushing international sanctions be lifted first.

On Saturday, the state media said the US would "pay dearly" for taking issue with the North's human rights record, and said Washington's "malicious words" would only aggravate tensions on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea has also repeatedly called for the US to drop its "hostile policy" and warned about its "Christmas gift" as the end-year deadline it set for Washington to change its position looms.

Some experts say the reclusive state may be preparing for an intercontinental ballistic missile test that could put it back on a path of confrontation with the US.

The US envoy for North Korea, Mr Stephen Biegun, has visited South Korea and China in the past week, issuing a public and direct call to North Korea to return to the negotiating table, but there has been no response.

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