SEOUL, South Korea — In a speech before his ruling Workers’ Party, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said on Saturday that his country would live up to its international commitment to nuclear nonproliferation, while trying to end the danger of war on the Korean Peninsula by using its “strong nuclear deterrent” as leverage against the United States.
Mr. Kim presented what North Korea’s state media called an “ambitious blueprint” for his impoverished yet nuclear-armed country on Saturday, the second day of the Seventh Congress of his ruling Workers’ Party, the first such gathering in 36 years. Mr. Kim said that his country’s dealings with the outside world should be based on the fact that it has become a nuclear power — a status the United States has repeatedly vowed to not recognize.
“Our party and government will struggle to root out the danger of nuclear war being imposed on us by the United States, based on our strong nuclear deterrent and defend peace in the region and in the world,” Mr. Kim said. His speech was carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Sunday.
Mr. Kim said North Korea would act like “a responsible nuclear power” by not using a nuclear weapon unless its sovereignty is violated. “We will comply sincerely with our international commitment to nuclear nonproliferation and strive to achieve the denuclearization of the world,” he said.
Mr. Kim also said his country was willing to improve ties with hostile countries if North Korea is treated with respect and as a friend.
Mr. Kim’s comments appeared in line with what outside analysts have said has been shaping up as North Korean policy in recent years. The analysts also said North Korea wants the United States to accept it as a nuclear power and sign a peace treaty in exchange for a commitment not to grow its nuclear arsenal or export nuclear weapons knowledge.
North Korea has indicated in recent years that it can discuss its nuclear disarmament only in the context of global denuclearization. But Washington has insisted it can start dialogue with Pyongyang only when it agrees that it will abandon its nuclear weapons program.
But senior North Korean officials attending the party congress vowed to expand their country’s nuclear arsenal, and claimed an ability to strike the United States with nuclear weapons. “Our means of nuclear strikes are ready to launch any time, targeting American imperialists’ bases of invasion in the Asia-Pacific region and the mainland United States,” Vice Marshal Ri Myong-su, the chief of the Korean People’s Army’s General Staff, said on Saturday.
Vice Marshal Ri, one of Mr. Kim’s top aides, said that if there were an order from Mr. Kim, his military would launch nuclear strikes to “liberate” South Korea and “completely erase the United States off the face of the earth.”
North Korea had previously made similar threats and claims about its nuclear capabilities. But remarks by senior officials during the congress showed that Mr. Kim was using the rare political gathering to rally the party behind his so-called “byungjin” policy. On Saturday, Mr. Kim said that policy was not a temporary step but his party’s “permanent strategic line.”
The byungjin — or “parallel advance” — policy calls for stockpiling nuclear weapons in the belief that the deterrent would allow the country to focus on economic recovery. Since taking power four years ago, Mr. Kim has adopted it as his national strategy, despite warnings from Washington and Seoul that it would further isolate his already heavily sanctioned country.
Vice Marshal Ri’s comments were reported by the North’s state-run Pyongyang Radio and Korean Central Broadcasting Station, also a radio network.
United States and South Korean officials doubted that North Korea has developed a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile that would deliver a nuclear payload to the continental United States. Its three tests of the intermediate-range ballistic missile Musudan, which is believed to have a range long enough to reach United States military bases in Guam, all failed last month, with the projectiles crashing to the sea or exploding shortly after liftoff, they said.
But under Mr. Kim, North Korea has accelerated its nuclear and missile program. He presented his nuclear weapons program as his key achievement during the party congress, which severed as a platform to cement his grip on power.
“It is our unshakable determination that because the Workers’ Party has its byungjin line, there is nothing we cannot conquer in nuclear armament,” said another senior party official, Wang Chang-wuk, according to the North Korean radio reports. “We are determined to push through the party’s decision on building a nuclear might and to develop and make more diverse and advanced nuclear weapons of our own style.”
On Saturday, a parade of top party officials spoke at the congress, idolizing Mr. Kim, who is believed to be in his early 30s, for “ushering in a great heyday in strengthening” North Korea, said the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. In his review of policies on Saturday, they said, Mr. Kim provided “an encyclopedic political program giving a perfect solution to all problems.”
More than 3,400 delegates from across North Korea were attending the congress, the first since 1980, when Mr. Kim’s grandfather, the North’s founding President Kim Il-sung, was in charge. The congress will elect a new party leadership, reaffirming Mr. Kim at the top post, the North Korean media said.