Last month, North Korea claimed to have carried out key tests necessary for the development of a new strategic weapon, a likely reference to a solid-fuel ICBM and a spy satellite.

Kim’s identification of South Korea as an enemy and mention of the hostile policies of the United States and South Korea is «a reliable pretext for the regime to produce more missiles and weapons to solidify Kim’s negotiating position and finalize the status of North Korea as a nuclear weapons power,” Soo Kim said.

Some observers say North Korea wants to become a legitimate nuclear-powered state as a way to win the lifting of UN and international sanctions and force an end to regular US-South Korean military exercises that the North looks like an invasion rehearsal.

«It was during his 2018 New Year’s speech that (Kim) first ordered the mass production of warheads and ballistic missiles, and he is doubling down on that QE target for next year,» said Ankit Panda, a Carnegie expert. Endowment for International Peace.

Panda said the reference to a new ICBM appears to refer to a solid propellant system, saying «we should expect to see larger solid propellant missiles tested soon.»

Panda said the launch of the satellite should take place in April. North Korea normally celebrates April 15, the birth anniversary of Kim’s late father and state founder Kim Il Sung, with great fanfare and state-organized celebrations.

External concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program have grown since North Korea passed a new law last year that authorized the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in a wide range of situations and openly threatened to use its nuclear weapons first.

During his speech at the party meeting, Kim reiterated that threat.

“(Kim’s report) made it clear that our nuclear force regards it as the first mission to deter war and safeguard peace and stability. However, if he fails to deter, he will carry out the second mission, which will not be defense,» KCNA said.

Growing nuclear threats from the North have prompted the United States and South Korea to expand their military exercises and strengthen trilateral security cooperation involving Japan. The US military has warned that any nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies and partners «will result in the end of that regime.»

Early Sunday, the South Korean military detected a missile launch from the North’s capital region. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile traveled about 400 kilometers (250 miles) before hitting the water between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff called the launch «a serious provocation» that harms peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and around the world. He said South Korea is overwhelmingly willing to deal with any provocation.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that US commitments to defend South Korea and Japan «remain steadfast.»