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SEOUL — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised to strengthen the country’s nuclear weapons in a speech at a military parade where intercontinental ballistic missiles and other weapons were displayed, state media said on Tuesday.

The latest high-profile military showcase comes amid signs that North Korea has been stepping up its nuclear capability to pressure the United States and its allies. The parade was held late Monday in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, during celebrations to mark the 90th anniversary of its army’s founding.

The parade follows an unprecedented flurry of weapons tests by North Korea this year that dialed up tensions in the region. North Korea last month resumed testing intercontinental ballistic missiles that can potentially reach the U.S. mainland, after a nearly five year hiatus.

North Korea’s latest missile test may not have been what it claimed

Officials and analysts in South Korea and the United States recently said there are also signs that North Korea is restoring a nuclear test site that it dismantled in 2018.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who oversaw the parade, vowed to “further strengthen our country’s nuclear forces at a maximum speed,” according to the Korean Central News Agency.

“The fundamental mission of our nuclear forces is war deterrence, but our nuclear forces cannot be tied to that one mission of war prevention when an absolutely undesirable situation develops on our territory,” Kim was quoted as saying in the KCNA. “If any forces attempt to infringe on our country’s fundamental interests, our nuclear forces cannot but go ahead with the secondary mission,” he said, without elaborating on what the secondary mission would be.

The nighttime military parade showcased North Korea’s latest weapons, including the its largest known intercontinental ballistic missile named Hwasong-17, according to the KCNA.

U.S. and South Korean officials said that North Korea appears to have failed in its initial test of the Hwasong-17 on March 16, and then launched an older version of the ICBM eight days later and claimed it as a successful test of the Hwasong-17.

Photos of the parade in state media showed the Hwasong-17 and what appeared to be hypersonic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and other conventional weapons. The parade, which took place at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square, named after North Korea’s founding father, also featured thousands of marching troops.

Monday’s parade comes as Yoon Suk-yeol, a conservative president-elect who vowed a tougher stance against North Korea’s military provocations, is set to take office next month.

In response to the parade, the president-elect’s team said in a statement that South Korea should reinforce its alliance with the United States to deter growing North Korean military threats. “Now that the North Korean nuclear and missile threats have become a severe threat in reality, our most urgent task is to build a deterrence capability against it,” the statement said.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been on the rise since a summit meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump in 2019 collapsed over sanctions relief. Since then, Pyongyang has been rejecting Washington’s offers to resume dialogue, as the Biden administration has not showed signs of offering the sanctions relief that North Korea seeks.

The crippling international sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear weapons development, combined with the pandemic shocks in recent years, has driven the regime’s economy to what it called the “worst-ever situation.”

During a visit to Seoul last week, U.S. envoy on North Korea Sung Kim underlined the U.S. willingness to engage with North Korea “anywhere without conditions.” He also said the United States and South Korea will respond “responsibly and decisively” to North Korea’s “provocative behavior.”

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