North Korea holds major party meeting amid nuclear test signs

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un convened a conference to review state affairs including a COVID-19 epidemic and perhaps address relations with Washington, Seoul, and Washington amid his renewed nuclear brinkmanship.

North Korea holds major party meeting amid nuclear test signs

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un convened a conference to review state affairs including a COVID-19 epidemic and perhaps address relations with Washington, Seoul, and Washington amid his renewed nuclear brinkmanship.

According to the official Korean Central News Agency, the plenary meeting of Workers Party's Central Committee, which began Wednesday in Pyongyang's capital, could last for several days.

This meeting takes place amid indications that North Korea is planning for its first nuclear explosion in almost five years. This would increase a provocation streak in weapons demonstrations this season, which has also included multiple intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

KCNA published photographs of participants entering a party building. They said they were happy with the agenda, but it wasn't stated.

The state media stated that the meeting would examine state affairs and decide on "a series of important issues."

This meeting will likely address the COVID-19 epidemic in the country. The World Health Organization officials stated Wednesday that they believe the outbreak is worsening. They requested that more information be provided to the U.N. agency for health.

Experts and officials from South Korea have indicated that Kim could address relations with the United States, rival South Korea, and resume long-stalled diplomacy.

During the December plenary of the North Korean party, Kim reiterated his promise to increase his military nuclear program and order more sophisticated weapons systems production. These discussions lasted a record five-day period.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Deputy Secretary for State Wendy Sherman met in Seoul with counterparts from South Korea (Japan) and Japan to discuss North Korean security cooperation. She warned of a swift and forceful response if North Korea conducts a nuclear test, but she didn't go into detail.

Sherman's trip to Asia was made after North Korea, in its largest-ever single-day test event, launched eight ballistic missiles at sea from multiple locations. The U.S. and its Asian allies responded with missile launches and aerial demonstrations involving hundreds of fighter jets.

North Korea, reviving an old pattern, has set a new record for ballistic launches in the first half 2022. It fired 31 missiles at 18 launch events and also demonstrated its first ICBMs since 2017.

Experts say Kim's dual intention to expand his arsenal and press the Biden administration in long-stalled negotiations aimed leveraging its nuclear weapons for crucial economic benefits and security concessions is evident by Kim's unusually rapid pace of testing activity.

Kim could up the ante as U.S. officials and South Korean officials claim that North Korea is almost done with preparations to explode a nuclear weapon at its Punggye-ri testing ground. Since September 2017, the site was inactive and hosted North Korea's sixth nuclear testing. In that test, it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear weapon designed for its ICBMs.

Analysts believe that North Korea could claim to have the ability to make a small bomb large enough to be placed on a multiwarhead ICBM, or on Kim’s growing array of short-range, solid-fuel missiles that are threatening South Korea, Japan and China.

The Biden administration stated that it would seek additional sanctions against North Korea if the country conducts another nuclear attack. However, there are no clear prospects of meaningful punitive actions due to the split United Nations Security Council over Russia's war in Ukraine. Russia and China vetoed U.S. sponsored resolutions to increase sanctions against North Korea for some of its major missile test this year. They insist that Washington should reopen dialogue with Pyongyang.

The U.S. and North Korea are at odds over lifting crippling U.S. sanctions in return for North Korean disarmament measures. This has underscored Kim’s refusal to give up an arsenal that he considers his greatest guarantee of survival.

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