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Kim Jong Un gains new title at party congress, calls U.S. 'principal enemy'

By
Thomas Maresca
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un received a new title, general secretary of the ruling Workers Party, state media reported on Monday. Photo by KCNA
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un received a new title, general secretary of the ruling Workers Party, state media reported on Monday. Photo by KCNA

SEOUL, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was elected general secretary of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, state media reported Monday, receiving a title that had been held by his deceased father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung.

The move came on Sunday, during the sixth day of a party congress, state-run Korean Central News Agency reported. The congress, being held for the first time since 2016, has mapped out economic, military and foreign policy goals for the next five years.

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Kim's election as general secretary reflected "the unanimous will and desire of all the delegates and other party members, all the people and service personnel of the People's Army," KCNA reported.

The election was greeted with "stormy cheers" and was celebrated as "opening up an era of unprecedented changes and miracles with [Kim's] gifted ideological and theoretical wisdom, extraordinary leadership and noble moral virtue," the KCNA report said.

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Kim Jong Un had previously held the title of party chairman and is referred to as the "supreme leader" of North Korea. The new designation, while largely symbolic, places Kim on the same level as his father and grandfather and appears to be a move to further cement his power atop the reclusive state. He inherited leadership of North Korea after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in 2011.

Over the weekend, Kim outlined a goal of bolstering North Korea's defensive capabilities and referred to the United States as "our principal enemy."

"It is necessary to develop the nuclear technology to a higher level and make nuclear weapons smaller and lighter for more tactical uses," Kim told the party congress in a report, KCNA said on Saturday.

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The North Korean leader set a goal of being able to "strike and annihilate any strategic targets within a range of 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles) with pinpoint accuracy."

Nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea have been at a standstill since a February 2019 summit that brought Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump together for a second time ended abruptly without an agreement.

A new relationship with Washington "lies in the U.S. withdrawal of its hostile policy," Kim said, adding that North Korea "would approach the U.S. on the principle of power for power and goodwill for goodwill in the future," according to KCNA.

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The messaging from North Korea sets the tone for relations just ahead of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20, analysts said.

"At first read it is an apparent hardline policy and a continuation of Kim's political warfare resting on the foundation of blackmail diplomacy -- the use of increased tension, threats, and provocations to gain political and economic concessions," retired Col. David Maxwell, senior fellow at Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in an email.

North Korea does seem willing to negotiate, Maxwell added, but as equals.

"Kim wants to be treated as a nuclear power," Maxwell wrote.

North Korea appeared to hold a military parade on Sunday night, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Monday.

"Our military detected signs that North Korea held a military parade related to the party congress at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang late at night yesterday," the JCS said in a release, according to news agency Yonhap.

"South Korea and U.S. military authorities are closely following them, including possibilities that the activity could be a rehearsal," it added.

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