North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has vowed to develop more nuclear weapons while personally decorating scientists and officials behind Pyongyang’s most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-15.
Hwasong-15, which was test-launched on November 29, has been largely perceived by analysts and government officials to have a range that can reach all of the mainland United States.
However, experts said North Korea still had some technical points it needed to improve before fully completing its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could hit the entirety of the United States.
Mr Kim said the scientists and workers would continue manufacturing, “more latest weapons and equipment” to, “bolster up the nuclear force in quality and quantity”, the North’s central news agency reported.
The North Korean leader was speaking at the close of a rare two-day munitions conference to celebrate the Hwasong-15.
Mr Kim also said North Korea should develop and manufacture more diverse weapons.
He personally awarded medals to, “those in the field of defence science who most faithfully and perfectly carried out the party’s plan for building strategic nuclear force, successfully test-fired ICBM Hwasong-15 and thus demonstrated the dignity and might of our powerful state all over the world once again”, KCNA said without naming the recipients.
This comes as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered to begin direct talks with North Korea without pre-conditions, backing away from US demands that Pyongyang must first accept any negotiations would have to be about giving up its nuclear arsenal.
“Let’s just meet, and we can talk about the weather if you want … if that is what you are excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face,” he said.
While reiterating Washington’s long-standing position it could not tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea, Mr Tillerson said the United States was, “ready to talk any time they’re ready to talk”, but that there would first have to be a period of quiet without nuclear and missile tests.
Mr Tillerson also disclosed the US had been talking to China about how to secure North Korea’s nuclear weapons in the event of a collapse of the Government in Pyongyang, and that Beijing had been given assurances that if US forces had to cross into North Korea they would pull back across the border into the South.
But he made clear the US wanted to resolve the North Korea standoff through peaceful diplomacy and, in terms far more tempered than President Donald Trump’s recent threats against Pyongyang, offered to hold exploratory talks.
It was not immediately clear whether Mr Tillerson, whose influence appeared to wane within the administration, had Mr Trump’s full support to seek such a diplomatic opening.
But United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman said that during a visit to North Korea last week, officials, “did not offer any kind of commitment” to talks, but he was of the mind he had left, “the door ajar”.
Mr Feltman, the highest-level UN official to visit North Korea since 2011, met with Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Vice-Minister Pak Myong-guk during a four-day visit he described as, “The most important mission I have ever undertaken”.
“Time will tell what was the impact of our discussions, but I think we have left the door ajar and I fervently hope that the door to a negotiated solution will now be opened wide,” Mr Feltman told reporters after briiefing the UN Security Council.
“They need time to digest and consider how they will respond to our message,” he said, adding he believed the Foreign Minister would brief Mr Kim on the visit.