Secretive North Korea said it will strengthen self-defensive nuclear weapons capability in a decision adopted at a congress of its ruling Workers’ Party congress, its KCNA news agency reported on Monday, in defiance of U.N. resolutions.
The congress, in its fourth day, is the first to be held in 36 years and North Korea granted visas to scores of foreign journalists from 12 countries, whose movements are closely monitored. One BBC journalist, not reporting directly on the congress, was detained over the content of his broadcasts and was being expelled from the country.
North Korea has come under tightening international pressure over its nuclear weapons program, including tougher U.N. sanctions adopted in March backed by lone major ally China, following its most recent nuclear test in January.
The congress’s decision formalizes a position previously held by North Korea, which declared itself “a responsible nuclear weapons state” and disavowed the use of nuclear weapons unless its sovereignty is first infringed by others with nuclear arms.
“We will consistently take hold on the strategic line of simultaneously pushing forward the economic construction and the building of nuclear force and boost self-defensive nuclear force both in quality and quantity as long as the imperialists persist in their nuclear threat and arbitrary practices,” KCNA said.
The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. North Korea regularly threatens the South and its major ally, the United States, which it accuses of planning a nuclear attack.
Officials and experts in South Korea believe that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is using the congress to consolidate power. Kim became leader in 2011 after his father’s sudden death.
Since the latest round of U.N. resolutions, North Korea has continued to engage in nuclear and missile development, and claimed that it had succeeded in miniaturizing a nuclear warhead and launching a submarine-based ballistic missile.
South Korea condemned the North’s claim to being a nuclear weapons state, saying it would continue to exert pressure on Pyongyang until it abandons its nuclear ambitions.
North Korea is believed by western experts to have about 40 kg of plutonium, enough to build eight to 12 nuclear weapons.
Foreign journalists issued visas to cover the congress have yet to be granted access to the proceedings, which began on Friday and include 3,467 voting delegates meeting in the enormous April 25 House of Culture. A closing date has not been made public but South Korea officials expect it to last four or five days.
North Korea detained BBC journalist Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and ordered his expulsion over his reporting, the broadcaster said. Wingfield-Hayes had been in town ahead of the congress to cover the visit of a group of Nobel laureates.
On Monday, visiting media were taken to a textile factory named after Kim Jong Suk, the wife of state founder Kim Il Sung and the grandmother of the current leader. They have also been taken to a maternity hospital, electric cable factory and children’s center – model sites that are also on tourist itineraries.
At the textile factory, workers were urged on in their labor by propaganda music and slogans on posters.
“Lets open the heyday of building a powerful prosperous nation in this year of the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea!”, one of the signs said.
During the weekend, Kim took a conciliatory position on ties with the South, saying military talks were needed to discuss ways to ease tension.
South Korea rejected the proposal as meaningless.
“We have not given up on dialogue,” Unification Ministry spokesman Cheong Joon-hee told a briefing on Monday. “But it is only when the North shows sincerity about denuclearization that genuine dialogue is possible.”