North Korea opens big party meeting amid signs of nuclear test | Health, Medicine and Fitness

By KIM TONG-HYUNG – Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called a policy conference where he is expected to review state affairs, including a COVID-19 outbreak, and possibly address relations with Washington and Seoul in the midst of its nuclear revival.

The plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee that began in the capital, Pyongyang, on Wednesday could last for several days, the Korean Central News Agency said on Thursday.

The meeting comes amid signs that North Korea is preparing for its first nuclear test in nearly five years, which would further aggravate a provocative streak of weapons demonstrations this year that has included several intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

KCNA released photos of meeting attendees entering a party building and said they approved of the agenda to be discussed, which was not specified.

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State media previously said the meeting would review state affairs and make decisions on a “series of important matters.”

The meeting is expected to address the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. World Health Organization officials said on Wednesday they believed the outbreak was getting worse and asked for more information to be shared with the United Nations health agency.

South Korean officials and experts have said Kim could possibly address relations with the United States and compete with South Korea amid stalled diplomacy and reaffirm his ambitions to build a nuclear arsenal that could threaten the regional allies of the United States and the American homeland in a viable manner.

At the previous North Korean party plenum in December, Kim reiterated his vow to strengthen its military nuclear program and order the production of more powerful and sophisticated weapon systems in talks that lasted a record five days. .

The North Korean meeting came as U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Seoul on Wednesday, emphasizing trilateral security cooperation amid accelerating the North Korean threat. She warned of a “quick and forceful response” if the North carried out a nuclear test, but did not give details.

Sherman’s visit to Asia came after North Korea, in its biggest one-day test event, launched eight ballistic missiles into the sea from multiple locations on Sunday, prompting the United States and its Asian allies to respond with tit-for-tat and aerial missile launches. demonstrations involving dozens of fighter planes.

Shaking an old pattern of precariousness, North Korea has already set an annual ballistic launch record in the first half of 2022, firing 31 missiles in 18 different launch events, including its first ICBM demonstrations since 2017.

The unusually fast pace of testing activity underscores Kim’s dual intent to advance his arsenal and pressure the Biden administration over long-running negotiations to leverage its nuclear weapons for economic benefits and concessions. essential safety measures, according to experts.

Kim could raise the bar as soon as US and South Korean officials say North Korea has all but completed preparations to detonate a nuclear device at its testing ground in the northeast city of Punggye-ri from the country. The site had been inactive since hosting the North’s sixth nuclear test in September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb designed for its ICBMs.

With a new test, North Korea could claim to have acquired the ability to build a bomb small enough to be clustered on a multi-warhead ICBM or Kim’s growing range of short-range solid-fuel missiles threatening South Korea. and Japan, according to analysts.

While the Biden administration has said it will push for additional sanctions if North Korea conducts another nuclear test, the prospects for meaningful punitive measures are unclear, with the United Nations Security Council divided on Russia’s war against Ukraine. Russia and China have vetoed US-sponsored resolutions that would have increased sanctions on North Korea for some of its major missile tests this year, insisting Washington should focus on revival dialogue with Pyongyang.

Nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over an easing of crippling sanctions imposed by the United States in exchange for North Korean disarmament measures, which underlined the Kim’s reluctance to hand over an arsenal he considers his best guarantee of survival.

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