North Korea broke months of silence on Wednesday about the date of the first congress by its ruling Workers' Party in 36 years, announcing in state media that the conference will begin on May 6.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is expected to use the congress to cement his leadership and to formally adopt his policy, known as "byongjin," to push simultaneously for economic development and nuclear weapons capability. South Korea's military said this week that it appears North Korea is prepared to conduct a fifth nuclear test ahead of the congress.
The party congress, first announced in October, will be closely watched for any new policies and for how the country will present its pursuit of nuclear weapons. South Korean officials have said they expect the North's party congress to last four or five days.
North Korea's last party congress was held in 1980, before Kim was born. Kim, the third member of his family to lead the country, is believed to be 33. The last Workers' Party congress was held under the rule of Kim's grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the state founder. Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il, who died in December 2011, never held a party congress.
Byongjin follows Kim's father's Songun, or "military first," policy and his grandfather's Juche, the North's home-grown founding ideology that combines Marxism and extreme nationalism.
North Korea's drive to develop a nuclear capability has intensified since January, when it conducted its fourth nuclear test and followed that with a string of tests of missiles that could deliver such a weapon. The North may be readying to launch an intermediate-range ballistic missile after a failed attempt this month, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported on Tuesday.
'Considering the state of readiness at the nuclear test site, it's our view that a nuclear test can happen at any time.'
Old rival South Korea, and others nervously watching the North's defiance of UN resolutions aimed at curbing its nuclear and ballistic missile technologies, expect another test within days. South Korea's military said it appears that preparations for the test have been made, and that Kim's go-ahead is all that's needed to carry it out.
"Considering the state of readiness at the nuclear test site, it's our view that a nuclear test can happen at any time," South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee told a briefing on Wednesday.
The US State Department warned on Tuesday it would consider "other" options if the North continued nuclear testing and ballistic missile launches. It declined to elaborate.
US President Barack Obama said in an interview aired on Tuesday that there "was no easy solution" to the North Korean threat and while the United States "could destroy North Korea with our arsenals," there would not only be humanitarian costs but also potential impact on South Korea.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has joined Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in vowing to take more steps to punish the North if it continued to defy UN sanctions and conducted more "provocative" activities.
Park said on Tuesday the effectiveness of existing sanctions could be boosted by "closing loopholes" and said the North may be "quickening its own collapse" by defying international warnings.
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