SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea rolled out developmental ballistic missiles designed to be launched from submarines and other military hardware in a parade that punctuated leader Kim Jong Un’s defiant calls to expand his nuclear weapons program.
State media said Kim took center stage in Thursday night’s parade celebrating a major ruling party meeting where Kim vowed maximum efforts to bolster his nuclear and missile program that threatens Asian rivals and the American homeland to counter what he described as U.S. hostility.
During the eight-day Workers’ Party congress that ended Tuesday, Kim also revealed plans to salvage the nation’s economy amid U.S.-led sanctions over his nuclear ambitions, pandemic-related border closures and natural disasters that wiped out crops.
The economic setbacks have left Kim nothing to show for his ambitious diplomacy with President Donald Trump, which derailed over disagreements in exchanging sanctions relief and the North’s denuclearization steps, and pushed Kim to what is clearly the toughest moment of his nine-year rule.
Kim’s comments are likely intended to pressure the incoming U.S. government of Joe Biden, who has previously called the North Korean leader a “thug” and accused Trump of chasing spectacle rather than meaningful curbs on the North’s nuclear capabilities. Kim has not ruled out talks, but he said the fate of bilateral relations would depend on whether Washington abandons its hostile policy toward Pyongyang.
The Korean Central News Agency on Friday released photos of Kim wearing a black fur hat and leather trench coat, smiling widely and gesturing from a podium as thousands of troops and civilian spectators filled Kim Il Sung Square, named after his grandfather and North Korea’s founder.
The agency said spectators roared as troops rolled out the country’s most advanced strategic weapons, including submarine-launched ballistic missiles it described as the “world’s mightiest.”
Photos released by state media showed trucks transporting missiles that appeared to be either newly developed submarine-launched ballistic missiles or modified versions of previously tested systems.
The agency also said the parade featured other missiles that could “pre-emptively and completely destroy any enemy outside of our territory.” But it wasn’t immediately clear whether the description was referring to intercontinental ballistic missiles.
During its previous military parade in October, the North unveiled what appeared to be its biggest-yet ICBM. The country’s previous long-range missiles demonstrated a potential ability to reach deep into the U.S. mainland during flight tests in 2017.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Kim delivered a speech during the parade. North Korean state TV hasn’t released footage of the event, and the South Korean and U.S. militaries haven’t yet provided assessments of the weapons displayed by the North.
During the party congress, Kim unveiled plans to pursue more sophisticated military assets, including longer-range ICBMs that could potentially target the U.S. mainland more reliably, new tactical nuclear weapons and warheads, nuclear-powered submarines, spy satellites and hypersonic weapons.
It’s unclear whether the North is fully capable of acquiring such systems. While the country is believed to have accumulated at least dozens of nuclear weapons, outside estimates on the exact status of its nuclear and missiles programs vary widely.
But the North has been developing submarine-launched ballistic missile systems for years. Acquiring an operational system would alarm its rivals and neighbors because missiles fired from submerged vessels are harder to detect in advance.