SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reviewed a rare exhibition of weapons systems and vowed to build an "invincible" military, as he accused the United States of creating tensions and not taking action to prove it has no hostile intent toward the North, state media reported Tuesday.
In an apparent continued effort to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul, Kim also said his drive to build up his military isn’t targeted at South Korea and that there shouldn’t be another war pitting Korean people against each other.
Kim gave the speech Monday at the "Defense Development Exhibition ‘Self-Defense-2021’," an event meant to mark the previous day’s 76th birthday of the ruling Workers’ Party. The event featured an array of new weapons, including intercontinental ballistic missiles that North Korea has already test-launched or displayed during a military parade.
"The U.S. has frequently signaled it’s not hostile to our state, but there is no action-based evidence to make us believe that they are not hostile," Kim said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. "The U.S. is continuing to create tensions in the region with its wrong judgments and actions."
Calling the United States a "source" of instability on the Korean Peninsula, Kim said his country’s most important objective is possessing an "invincible military capability" that no one can dare challenge.
Kim accused South Korea of hypocrisy because it criticizes North Korea’s weapons development as provocations while spending heavily to increase its own military capabilities, including purchasing advanced U.S. stealth fighters. But he still said his military doesn’t target South Korea.
"I say once again that South Korea isn’t the one that our military forces have to fight against," Kim said. "Surely, we aren’t strengthening our defense capability because of South Korea. We shouldn’t repeat a horrible history of compatriots using force against each other."
North Korean state media photos showed Kim, clad in a dark suit, walking on a red carpet lined with big missiles mounted on trucks, passing by a multiple rocket launch system and watching jets flying in a formation.
Seoul’s Defense Ministry said South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities were analyzing the North Korean weapons displayed but didn’t elaborate. Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Monday’s exhibition was the first of its kind since Kim took power in 2011.
Yang Wook, a military expert who teaches at South Korea’s Hannam University, said the weapons shown in the photos were largely what the North has already displayed during military parades. Among them was what appears to be a new ICBM that North Korea disclosed during a military parade last year but hasn’t test-fired, Yang said. That missile mounted on an 11-axel launch vehicle during the parade is considered to be the North’s biggest-yet ICBM.
South Korean media reported Monday’s exhibition also featured another ICBM and shorter-range missiles that North Korea has already test-launched.
"Basically, North Korea wants to send this message: ‘We’ll continue to develop new weapons and arm ourselves with nuclear force, so don’t slap sanctions with these as we can’t agree on the double standards,’" Yang said.
North Korea has sent mixed signals toward its rivals in recent weeks.
Last month, North Korea performed its first missile tests in six months, including nuclear-capable weapons that could reach targets in South Korea and Japan, including U.S. military bases there. But North Korea still restored dormant phone and fax channels with South Korea and said it’s open to restarting official talks with South Korea if conditions are met.
Some experts say North Korea is attempting to use South Korea’s desire to improve ties to pressure it to convince the United States to relax punishing economic sanctions on the North and make other concessions.
North Korea has long sought improved ties with the United States because it wants sanctions relief and a better security environment to focus on reviving its moribund economy. The high-stakes diplomacy between the countries fell apart in early 2019 after the Americans rejected North Korea’s calls for extensive sanctions relief in return for partial disarmament steps.
The United States has recently repeatedly offered talks with North Korea "anywhere and at any time" without preconditions. Kim has called such an offer "cunning" attempt to conceal U.S. hostility against North Korea, as he wants Washington to ease the sanctions or suspend its regular military drills with Seoul first before the talks can resume.
Despite its recent missile tests, Kim still maintains a 2018 self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile tests directly targeting the American homeland, a sign that he still wants to keep alive chances for future talks with Washington.