North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un is ramping up the country's weapons development in response to hostile policies from the US and a military build-up in South Korea, according to North Korea's state media.
At the Defence Development Exhibition on Monday, Mr Kim said Pyongyang was increasing its military in self defence and not to start a war.
Mr Kim made the remarks standing next to a variety of weapons, including the country's InterContinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), pictures in the ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun showed. Among them was the Hwasong-16, North Korea's largest ICBM, unveiled at a military parade in October 2020 but not yet test fired.
Mr Kim said North Korea's main enemy was “war itself".
“We are not discussing war with anyone, but rather to prevent war itself and to literally increase war deterrence for the protection of national sovereignty,” he said.
A representative for South Korea's defence ministry told reporters that South Korean and US intelligence agencies are analysing equipment displayed at the exhibition and will closely monitor the situation.
The two Koreas have been in an accelerating arms race, with both sides testing increasingly advanced short-range ballistic missiles and other hardware.
South Korea, which last month test fired its first submarine-launched ballistic missile, plans to build major new weapons and has bought US-made F-35 stealth fighters.
North Korea has pushed ahead with its missile programme. Analysts say it has begun a major expansion of its main nuclear reactor, used to produce fuel for nuclear bombs.
The US has said it is willing to hold diplomatic talks at any time with North Korea. Pyongyang says it is not interested as long as Washington maintains policies such as sanctions and military activities in South Korea.
US assertions that it holds no hostile feelings towards North Korea are hard to believe in the face of its continued “wrong judgments and actions”, Mr Kim said, without elaborating.
South Korea's national security adviser, Suh Hoon, is expected to meet his American counterpart Jake Sullivan in Washington on Tuesday to discuss North Korea.
When he arrived in Washington on Monday, Mr Suh told reporters he planned to discuss President Moon Jae-in's proposal for a formal declaration ending the 1950-53 Korean War — which ended in an armistice, not a formal peace treaty — and for possible easing of sanctions on North Korea, Yonhap news agency reported.
Last week, the two Koreas restored their hotlines that the North severed months ago, with Pyongyang urging Seoul to step up efforts to improve relations after criticising what it called double standards over weapons development.
South Korea's “unrestricted and dangerous” efforts to strengthen its military are “destroying the military balance in the Korean peninsula and increasing military instability and danger,” Mr Kim said on Monday.
“Under the absurd pretext of suppressing our threats, South Korea has openly expressed its desire to gain an edge over us in military power on various occasions,” he said.