By Foster Klug ,AP
SEOUL — North Korea’s leader has taken a victory tour to celebrate the country’s widely disputed claim of a hydrogen bomb test, seeking to rally pride in an explosion viewed with outrage by much of the world and boost his domestic political goals.
Kim Jong Un’s first public comments about last week’s test came in a visit of military headquarters, where he called the explosion “a self-defensive step” meant to protect the region “from the danger of nuclear war caused by the U.S.-led imperialists,” according to a dispatch Sunday from state-run Korean Central News Agency.
“It is the legitimate right of a sovereign state and a fair action that nobody can criticize,” Kim was reported as saying during his tour of the People’s Armed Forces Ministry.
The tone of Kim’s comments, which sought to glorify him and justify the test, is typical of state media propaganda.
But they also provide insight into North Korea’s long-running argument that it is the presence of tens of thousands of U.S. troops in South Korea and Japan, and a “hostile” U.S. policy that seeks to topple the government in Pyongyang, that make North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons absolutely necessary.
During his tour, Kim posed for photos with leading military officials in front of statues of the two members of his family who led the country previously — Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung. He also sought to link the purported success of the nuclear test to a ruling Workers’ Party convention in May, the party’s first since 1980. He’s expected to use the congress to announce major state policies and shake up the country’s political elite to further consolidate his power. Cold War-era Standoff Kim’s comments came as world powers looked for ways to punish the North over a nuclear test that, even if not of a hydrogen bomb, still likely pushes Pyongyang closer to its goal of a nuclear-armed missile that can reach the U.S. mainland.
In the wake of the test on Wednesday, the two Koreas have settled into the kind of Cold War-era standoff that has defined their relationship over the past seven decades. Since Friday, South Korea has been blasting anti-Pyongyang propaganda from huge speakers along the border, and the North is reportedly using speakers of its own in an attempt to keep its soldiers from hearing the South Korean messages.
A top North Korean ruling party official’s recent warning that the South’s broadcasts have pushed the Korean Peninsula “toward the brink of war” is typical of Pyongyang’s over-the-top rhetoric. But it is also indicative of the real fury that the broadcasts, which criticize the country’s revered dictatorship, cause in the North.
North Korea considers the South Korean broadcasts tantamount to an act of war. When South Korea briefly resumed propaganda broadcasts in August after an 11-year break, Seoul says the two Koreas exchanged artillery fire.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing an anonymous military source, reported late Saturday that the North had started its own broadcasts, presumably to keep its soldiers from hearing the South Korean broadcasts. The North’s broadcasts were too weak to hear clearly on the South Korean side of the border. South Korean military officials wouldn’t confirm the Yonhap report.