North Korean leader Kim Jong-un warned that his country would "fully mobilize" its nuclear power if threatened as he took center stage at a military parade that unveiled what appeared to be a new intercontinental ballistic missile and other weapons.
Kim, however, avoided direct criticism of Washington during Saturday's event, which marked the 75th anniversary of the ruling party and took place less than four weeks before the US presidential election. Instead, he focused on a domestic message urging his people to remain firm in the face of the "tremendous challenges" posed by the coronavirus pandemic and the crippling US-led sanctions against his nuclear program.
Kim described the North's continued efforts to develop its nuclear deterrence as necessary for its defense and said that it did not target any particular country.
But "if any force harms the safety of our nation, we will fully mobilize the strongest possible offensive to punish them in a preventive manner," he said.
Kim's speech was punctuated by thousands of goose-stepping troops, tanks, armored vehicles, rocket launchers and a wide range of ballistic missiles rolled out at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang.
The weapons included what was probably the largest ICBM in the North, yet it was mounted on an 11-axle launch vehicle that was also seen for the first time. The North also featured a variety of solid-fuel weapon systems, including what could be an advanced version of its Pukguksong missile family designed to be fired from submarines or land-based mobile launchers.
The missiles highlighted how the North continued to expand its military capabilities during a stalemate in nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration.
Kim had previously expressed frustration over slow diplomacy, promising in December that he would continue to strengthen his nuclear arsenal in the face of U.S. pressure and soon unveil a "new strategic weapon for the world." He said that the North was no longer obliged to maintain a self-imposed suspension of nuclear weapons and ICBM tests, which President Donald Trump claimed to be a major foreign p.
The likely ICBM parade Saturday was clearly a new strategic weapon Kim had promised to show, said Melissa Hanham, Deputy Director of the Austrian Open Nuclear Network. North Korea has already demonstrated its potential to reach deep into the US mainland with a flight test of its Hwasong-15 ICBM in 2017, and developing a larger missile may mean that the country is trying to arm its long-range weapons with more warheads, she said.
"North Korea is pushing ahead with its nuclear strategy, regardless of the tough year it has had with diplomatic talks, typhoon floods and COVID-19," Hanham said in a telephone interview. "I also think this is a message to the United States — he has already declared that he is no longer committed to a moratorium and that he has something new that he might want to test."
"I also think this is a message to the United States — he has already declared that he is no longer committed to a moratorium and that he has something new that he might want to test."
The celebration event, which began late Friday, was not broadcast by North Korean state television until Saturday night when a taped broadcast was broadcast.
Goose-stepping troops were seen marching in the streets in front of the brightly illuminated Kim Il Sung Square, as a military band performed in the formation of "10.10," "1945" and "2020" to celebrate the anniversary of the party.
The performers and tens of thousands of spectators roared as Kim, wearing a gray suit and tie, came out of the building as the clock struck midnight. Kim, flanked by senior officials and smiling widely, waved to the crowd and kissed the children who presented him with flowers before taking his place on the balcony.
In his speech, Kim seemed to be tearing up at one point as he repeatedly thanked his "great people" and the military for overcoming "unexpected" burdens and implementing anti-virus measures imposed by the ruling party and the government to keep the country free of COVID-19, a claim that was widely questioned by outside observers.
He also extended an olive branch to rival South Korea, expressing hope that countries will be able to repair ties once the threat of a pandemic has ended. Almost all cooperation with the South had been suspended by the North during the freeze in larger talks with the United States.
After the speech, Kim waved and watched the binoculars as the military hardware rolled out of the square. He saluted as fighter jets flew in formation, using fireworks to form the symbol of the Workers ' Party — hammer, brush and sickle — and the number 75 in the sky.
Earlier Saturday, masked citizens lined up to lay flowers on the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the father of the current ruler, on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang. A large street poster read, "Best Glory to our Great Party."
Official North Korean Central News Agency said residents of Kaesong and other regions who had lost their homes in recent natural disasters had celebrated the anniversary of the party by moving to newly built houses and that they praised Kim Jong Un for looking after them as "their father."
This year's anniversary comes in the midst of deadlocked negotiations with Trump's administration and deepening economic woes that analysts say are shaping up to be one of Kim's biggest tests of leadership since he took office in 2011.
But many analysts believe that North Korea will avoid serious negotiations or provocations before the U.S. presidential election because of the chance that the U.S. government could change.