North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in a speech broadcast on Sunday that North Korea won't use nuclear weapons unless it feels threatened by other countries with nuclear arms.
Pyongyang "will faithfully fulfill its obligation for non-proliferation and strive for global denuclearization" Kim said. His remarks, though broadcast on Sunday, were made on Saturday during the rare congress of the ruling Workers' party.
North Korea was also willing to normalize ties with states that had been hostile towards it, Kim said. North Korean officials have made similar statements in the past, but have then continued to threaten attacks on the United States and South Korea.
The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war since the 1950-53 Korea conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, and relations have been at a low since the North tested a nuclear weapon in January.
Kim's position is in keeping with that offered by Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong in a recent interview with The Associated Press. Ri said that North Korea would stop expanding its nuclear program only if the US military stopped its annual exercises with South Korea in the Korean peninsula. Ri argued that Pyongyang was forced to develop nuclear weapons, as self-defense, in response to US aggression.
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At the time, President Barack Obama expressed his skepticism and said he didn't take the the minister's offer of a quid-pro-quo agreement seriously, adding that if Pyongyang wants to seriously talk about denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, the US would be game.
North Korea's first party congress in 36 years began on Friday amid anticipation by the South Korean government and experts that the young third-generation leader would use it to further consolidate power. Kim, now 33, became leader in 2011 after his father's sudden death.
In his speech on Saturday, Kim also unveiled a five-year plan to boost the secretive state's stagnant economy. North Korea's economy is, in part, strangled by UN sanctions, which became even tougher this March after Pyongyang's most recent nuclear test and the launch of a long-range rocket, which put an object into orbit, in defiance of past UN Security Council resolutions.
Since then, it 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.
"As a responsible nuclear weapons state, our republic will not use a nuclear weapon unless its sovereignty is encroached upon by any aggressive hostile forces with nukes," Kim said.
Kim's economic plan seeks to boost economic growth and emphasizes the need to improve North Korea's electricity supply, as well as develop domestic sources of energy, including nuclear power.
Kim laid out the blueprint in an address highlighting his "Byongjin" policy of jointly pushing forward economic development and nuclear armament. His wants to focus on particular industry areas. For example, he wants more mechanization of agriculture, more automation of factories, and higher coal output, but didn't specifically say how he would achieve those goals.
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"(We must) solve the energy problem and place the basic industry section on the right track, and increase agricultural and light industry production to definitely improve the lives of the people," Kim said in a speech that lasted just over three hours, with delegates at the end rising to their feet in applause and shouts of "manse!," or "cheers for a long life!"
While the economic plan was short on detail, Michael Madden, an expert on the North Korean leadership, said it was significant that Kim had set out an economic plan at all.
"In stark contrast to his father, he is publicly taking responsibility for the economy and development as the originator of the policy. His father never undertook that responsibility," Madden said.
On Sunday morning, foreign journalists were told to dress presentably and were brought to the People's Palace of Culture, where dozens of black Mercedes-Benz sedans, with the 727 number plates reserved for top government officials, were parked.
However, after a one-hour wait in a lobby outside large wooden doors with frosted glass, the journalists were taken back to their hotel without having met any officials.
While the North Korean capital has been tidied-up as part of a 70-day campaign ahead of the congress, the 128 members of the foreign media issued visas to cover the event had yet to be granted access to the proceedings as of Sunday afternoon.