SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea's leader on Sunday announced a "new strategic line" that defied warnings from Washington, saying his country was determined to rebuild its economy in the face of international sanctions while simultaneously expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal, which the ruling party called "the nation's life."
The North's nuclear weapons "are neither a political bargaining chip nor a thing for economic dealings," the official Korean Central News Agency reported, citing remarks from the plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party.
The meeting took place against the backdrop of joint military exercises in South Korea involving U.S. and South Korean forces.
U.S. and South Korean officials still hope they can persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons through sanctions and diplomacy, especially if China agrees to use its economic leverage with the North. Many regional analysts and officials have suggested that the North's recent strident language, including threats to attack the United States and South Korea with nuclear weapons, is intended not only to solidify Kim's military credentials at home but also to draw the United States back to the negotiating table.
But a growing number of analysts also say that North Korea seems to have no intention of giving up its nuclear arms.
"The enemies are using both blackmail, telling us that we cannot achieve economic development unless we give up nuclear weapons, and appeasement, saying that they will help us live well if we choose a different path," Kim was quoted as saying during the meeting Sunday.
But he said his country must expand its nuclear arsenal both "in quality and quantity, as long as the United States' nuclear threat continues."
President Barack Obama and his national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, have urged Kim to learn from Myanmar, where changes initiated by new leaders have resulted in billions in debt forgiveness, large-scale development assistance and an influx of foreign investment. It North Korea continues on its current path, they said, it will face more sanctions and deeper isolation.
President Park Geun Hye of South Korea has also warned that the only way for Kim's government to ensure its survival is to give up its nuclear weapons.