North Korea is to strengthen its “atomic potential” in response to Washington’s hostile policies, Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency quoted the president of its parliament as saying Thursday.
Tass, one of the few foreign news organizations with a reporter based in the communist state, said Kim Yong-nam in an address to the Supreme People’s Assembly.
“We will continue to expand our atomic forces as long as the United States conducts policies to isolate and suffocate (North Korea),” Tass quoted Kim as saying in an hour-long speech.
Kim, who ranks second behind top leader Kim Jong-il, is the highest-ranking North Korean official to state Pyongyang’s intention to boost its nuclear arsenal.
Statements in the reclusive state’s official media had previously spoken of a decision to strengthen its “nuclear deterrent” to counter what it called the U.S. hostile intent.
Kim also called on North Koreans to “strengthen the unity of the army and the people, to strengthen our ideological position and to protect the state from the imperialists.”
“If war starts on the Korean peninsula we will destroy any aggressor,” Kim said.
The Assembly gathered to mark the “Day of the Sun,” as North Korea calls the anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il-sung, the late father of current leader Kim Jong-il.
On Feb. 10, North Korea said it possessed nuclear weapons and was dropping out of six-party talks aimed at ending its atomic ambitions. It blamed U.S. hostility for the decision to pull out.
About six weeks later, the North said it was forced to increase its nuclear arsenal because it saw the U.S. military as a serious threat.
U.S. officials have repeatedly said Washington has no plans to invade the North.
The two Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia met for three inconclusive rounds of nuclear talks up to the middle of 2004. A planned fourth round never took place.
The North accuses the United States, which keeps more than 30,000 troops in South Korea under a defense pact, of storing nuclear weapons on the peninsula and has demanded their removal.
The official U.S. position is that it has no such arms in South Korea.