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North Korean leader convenes military meeting amid tensions

This photo shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, attending a meeting with his senior military officials at an undisclosed location in North Korea, on June 21, 2022. (By AP)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has called a meeting with his senior military officials to discuss national defense policies and plans for further arms buildup, amid escalating tensions with the United States and South Korea over Pyongyang's recent missile tests.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Wednesday that Kim presided over a meeting of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Military Commission that began Tuesday to review defense work during the first half of 2022 and confirm "crucial and urgent tasks" to expand military capabilities and implement key defense policies.

The meeting will "review the overall work for national defense in the first half of the year, and put on its agenda the issues of confirming the crucial and urgent tasks to build up national defense and thoroughly implementing the military line and key defense policies of the Party," the agency said.

It will also "analyze and review the work system, order and actual conditions of the WPK Central Military Commission and the provincial, city and county Party military commissions and discuss major tasks for further enhancing the function and role of the military commissions at all levels," it added.

The report did not specify any plans or mention any critical remarks toward the United States or South Korea.

It is the first time the commission of military leaders is meeting at this level since June 2021 and the gathering is expected to take several days.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at South Korea's private Sejong Institute, said the members could discuss the progress in weapons development and plans to deploy some of the systems that have been tested in recent months, including a purported hypersonic missile, a long-range cruise missile, and the country's newest intercontinental ballistic missile.

The latest meeting comes at a time of growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, with US and South Korean officials saying in recent months that the North could be preparing to conduct its first nuclear test explosion since 2017.

On Sunday, the South Korean military claimed to have detected "several flight trajectories" believed to be artillery pieces fired by Pyongyang, days after Kim vowed to enhance the country's military power in the face of foreign threats.

China and Russia have also censured the US for fueling tensions in the region, citing Pyongyang's missile test in response to US-led military drills near its territorial waters.

Beijing and Moscow vetoed a US-led push at the UN last month to toughen sanctions against Pyongyang over its renewed ballistic missile launches, insisting Washington should focus on reviving dialog.

North Korea, which has been under rounds of crushing UN sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, has ramped up its missile launches this year, conducting well over a dozen weapons tests, including an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range for the first time since 2017.

North Korea maintains that its weapons tests are a defensive measure against military threats posed by the massive presence of US forces near its territorial waters and holding of joint war games with rival South Korea.

Former US President Donald Trump met with Kim three times but refused to ease or lift sanctions in return for steps taken by Pyongyang toward denuclearization.

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