Kim Jong-un has said North Korea will never abandon their nuclear weapons even if his country was sanctioned for “100 years”.
He was speaking in parliament as a law was passed allowing Pyongyang to use pre-emptive nuclear strikes in order to protect itself, a move likely to spark further tensions in the region.
The law spells out conditions whereby North Korea could use nuclear weapons, including when it determines its leadership is facing an imminent “nuclear or non-nuclear attack by hostile forces”.
“The utmost significance of legislating nuclear weapons policy is to draw an irretrievable line so that there can be no bargaining over our nuclear weapons,” he said.
“Let them sanction us for 100 days, 1,000 days, 10 years or 100 years.
“We will never give up our rights to self-defence that preserves our country’s existence and the safety of our people just to temporarily ease the difficulties we are experiencing now.”
The law requires North Korea’s military to “automatically” execute nuclear strikes against enemy forces, including their “starting point of provocation and the command”, if Pyongyang’s leadership comes under attack.
Announcing the new law, Mr Kim said it makes its nuclear status “irreversible” and bars any denuclearisation talks.
He criticised South Korea over its plans to expand its conventional strike capabilities and revive large-scale military exercises with the US, describing them as “dangerous”.
“The purpose of the United States is not only to remove our nuclear might itself but eventually forcing us to surrender or weaken our rights to self-defence through giving up our nukes, so that they could collapse our government at any time.”
The move comes as observers say the North appears to be preparing to resume nuclear testing for the first time since 2017, after historic summits with the then US president Donald Trump and other world leaders in 2018 failed to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its weapons development.
Analysts say Mr Kim’s goal is to win international acceptance of North Korea’s status as a “responsible nuclear state.”
The US and South Korea have offered to talk to Mr Kim, an offer Pyongyang has rebuffed so far.
Additional reporting by agencies