North Korea has a "reliable and effective war deterrent for self-defense" its ambassador to the United Nations said Tuesday, acknowledging that international sanctions had hindered the secretive communist state.
"Genuine peace can only be safeguarded when one possesses the absolute strength to prevent war itself," North Korea's U.N. ambassador, Kim Song, said in an address to the U.N. General Assembly.
"We have obtained the reliable and effective war deterrent for self-defense by tightening our belts, peace and security of the Korean peninsula and the region are now firmly defended."
The envoy also said "hostile forces" were "impeding our advance," a reference to stringent international sanctions on the country.
The comments come just a month after independent U.N. sanctions observers reported to the U.N. Security Council in August that North Korea appeared to be pressing on with its nuclear weapons program. They found that several countries believed it had "probably developed miniaturized nuclear devices to fit into the warheads of its ballistic missiles."
But ambassador Kim said North Korea was still being threatened by military hardware such as stealth fighters on the Korean Peninsula and added that "nuclear strike means of all kinds are directly aimed at the DPRK" — using his country's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Already weighed down by tough international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Pyongyang is also facing significant economic damage from strict border closures aimed at preventing the coronavirus pandemic and struggling to cope with damage from recent heavy storms and flooding.
"The DPRK is now directing all its efforts to economic construction," said Kim. "It is a matter of fact that we badly need an external environment favorable for economic construction...But we cannot sell off our dignity just in a hope for brilliant transformation."
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presided over a Central Committee meeting on Tuesday, addressing "self-complacency" and "carelessness" on issues from natural disasters, to the economy and COVID-19, according to state-owned media, KCNA.
North Korea has not confirmed any coronavirus infections and has imposed strict virus control measures including closing its borders, although the U.S. and South Korea doubt that it has managed to avoid the pandemic completely.
North Korea's ruling party has planned a congress in January to decide a new five-year plan for the nation, state media reported last month, after a party meeting noted serious delays in improving the economy and living standards in the country of 25 million.
Separately, the country is also wrapped up in a debacle with its neighbor over the mysterious death of a South Korean official last week.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said the North had shot and burned a 47-year-old man's body after he disappeared from a government boat near the island of Yeonpyeong, close to South Korea's sea border.
The incident prompted a rare apology from the North Korean leader in a letter where he was quoted as saying he was "very sorry" for the "unfortunate incident that happened in our waters."
Although North Korea admitted its military officials had fired blanks and later "ten rounds" of gunfire into the "intruder" and burnt a floating device he washed up on, they said they did not find his body.
South Korea called for an unprecedented joint probe over the weekend between the two countries into the incident, amid a renewed push by Seoul for engagement with Pyongyang, but the North has so far remained silent on the issue.
Reuters contributed to this report.