PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un spoke publicly for the first time today, just two days after a failed rocket launch, praising his father Kim Jong Il's "military-first" policy during celebrations marking the 100th birthday of the nation's late founder.
Kim, who has been seen but not publicly heard since taking over after Kim Jong Il's death in December, stepped to the podium to speak before tens of thousands of people gathered in Pyongyang's main square for meticulously choreographed festivities meant to glorify his grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.
Kim Jong Un said the era when nuclear arms could be used to threaten his country was "forever over." He called for strengthening the country's "military-first" policy by placing the "first, second and third" priorities on military might.
He said his country had built a "mighty military" capable of both offense and defense in any type of modern warfare.
"Superiority in military technology is no longer monopolized by imperialists," he said.
Soldiers are more important than rockets and artillery, Kim said, and military officers should treat their troops "like brothers and sisters."
He said he is "heartbroken" that the rival Koreas have been divided for decades, and said North Korea "will cooperate with anyone" who truly wishes for reunification.
North Korea defied the United States and others Friday by firing a long-range rocket that space officials said was mounted with an observational satellite despite warnings against pushing ahead with the provocative launch. Washington and others say it was a covert test of long-range missile technology.
Hours after the rocket splintered into pieces over the Yellow Sea, the country made an unusual admission of failure, but Kim did not mention the launch in his remarks today.
The U.N. Security Council denounced the launch as a violation of 2006 sanctions.