April 11 (UPI) — A top North Korea official stated Pyongyang intends to “relentlessly strengthen” the country’s nuclear weapons during a meeting of North Korea’s parliament commemorating Kim Jong Un’s fifth year of rule.
But the fifth session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly may have taken place without the North Korean leader’s supervision, according to South Korea media reports.
Top officials attended the fifth session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly on Tuesday, but Pyongyang’s state-controlled KCTV did not mention Kim.
In Kim’s absence, Choi Ryong Hae, vice chairman of the Korean Workers’ Party, delivered a speech that praised Kim for his “leadership,” according to South Korean television network KBS.
“That our party and country elevated Comrade Kim Jong Un to the highest level of party and country is a remarkable historical event that opened a new era of victory and prosperity for our party, our revolution, nation and people,” Choi said at the assembly on Tuesday.
Choi added the country’s policy of undertaking parallel goals of nuclear weapons and economic development is being “thoroughly pursued” and the state must “relentlessly strengthen” its nuclear and military powers.
The speech may have been a signal to the United States that Pyongyang has no interest in giving up its weapons of mass destruction and is waiting to be recognized as a nuclear weapons state, even as tensions escalate on the peninsula.
The U.S. State Department has stated denuclearization and the abandonment of weapons must precede any dialogue with North Korea, Voice of America reported Monday.
While the North Korean leader remained absent from the gathering of the rubber-stamp parliament, his sister, Kim Yo Jong, was seen in a rare public appearance on Monday, according to South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo.
The younger Kim was seen making a tribute at the bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at Mansudae, in Pyongyang.
Kim Yo Jong is believed to be playing a “political role in assisting Kim Jong Un,” according to Jeon Hyun-joon, director of the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Research Institute in South Korea.