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NKorea's Kim Holds Nuclear Meeting     05/24 10:02

   North Korean leader Kim Jong Un convened a key military meeting to discuss 
bolstering the country's nuclear arsenal and putting its armed forces on high 
alert, state media reported Sunday, in Kim's first known public appearance in 
about 20 days.

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un convened a key 
military meeting to discuss bolstering the country's nuclear arsenal and 
putting its armed forces on high alert, state media reported Sunday, in Kim's 
first known public appearance in about 20 days.

   Kim earlier this month quelled intense rumors about his health by attending 
a ceremony marking the completion of a fertilizer factory in what at the time 
was his first public appearance in 20 days. But he hadn't made another public 
appearance for around 20 more days until the North's official news agency said 
Sunday that he led a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the ruling 
Workers' Party.

   "Set forth at the meeting were new policies for further increasing the 
nuclear war deterrence of the country and putting the strategic armed forces on 
a high alert operation," the Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, said, without 
mentioning when the meeting was held.

   The meeting discussed increasing the capabilities for deterring "the 
threatening foreign forces," the report said, an apparent reference to the U.S. 
and South Korean militaries.

   Kim, who heads the military commission, also used the meeting to promote the 
ranks of dozens of army generals and others in an apparent effort to boost 
military morale. Among them is military chief Pak Jong Chon, who was made a 
vice marshal, and Ri Pyong Chol, a senior party official in charge of weapons 
development, who became a deputy head of the military commission, according to 
KCNA.

   Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said that Kim's 
"public appearances have more to do with domestic politics than international 
signaling, but it is interesting for him to reappear in state media about the 
time the world started noticing he'd been gone for three weeks again."

   The meeting was held amid a prolonged deadlock in negotiations with the 
United States over the North's nuclear program. The two countries' diplomacy 
faltered when a second summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in 
February 2019 ended without any agreement due to disputes over U.S.-led 
sanctions on North Korea.

   Frustrated over the lack of progress, Kim later said he would unveil "a new 
strategic weapon" and would no longer be bound by a self-imposed moratorium on 
nuclear and long-range missile tests. Kim hasn't followed through with those 
threats, though he did conduct a slew of short-range missile tests.

   On Sunday, the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper released photos showing 
Kim clad in his trademark dark Mao suit delivering a speech, writing on a 
document and pointing a stick at a board on the podium. Elderly military 
generals wearing olive green uniforms were seen taking notes as Kim, 36, spoke 
 something that's typical in North Korean state media-distributed photos.

   Despite lingering rumors about Kim's health, South Korean officials have 
said he didn't undergo surgery or any other medical procedure.

   South Korea's spy agency recently told lawmakers that it believes the 
coronavirus pandemic had led Kim to avoid public activities, saying he appeared 
in public 17 times this year, compared with an average of 50 appearances in the 
same time period each year since he took power in late 2011.

 
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