North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the country should strengthen its self-
reliance and deliver a “telling blow” against nations imposing sanctions in an attempt to force concessions over his nuclear program.

The comments, reported by North Korean state media Thursday, represent Kim’s first official, defiant response to the breakdown of the second U.S.-North Korea summit in February.

They also come as South Korean President Moon Jae-in was in Washington to meet President Trump. Moon is seeking a way to mediate between the United States and North Korea and restart a stalled dialogue.

Kim, in remarks delivered to a plenary session of officials from the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, underlined the need to “vigorously advance socialist construction” based on North Korea’s own “efforts, technology and resources.”

Kim called for the country to unite “under the uplifted banner of self-reliance, so as to deal a telling blow to the hostile forces who go with bloodshot eyes miscalculating that sanctions can bring the DPRK to its knees.”

Kim’s remarks were delivered Wednesday but reported Thursday by the Korean Central News Agency. DPRK refers to the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“Kim is showing that he’s confident enough not to feel any urgent pressure under the sanctions,” said Lim Eul-chul, an expert on the North Korean economy at Kyungnam University in Seoul.

“Indeed, North Korea has beefed up significant resilience against sanctions over a long period of time,” he added. “His latest message is that North Korea will further develop self-reliance rather than give in to Washington’s demands.”

Over the past week, Kim made four publicized visits to economic-related projects, including a beach resort, department store and more. Although Kim extended the deadline for the completion of the Wonsan-Kalma resort until April 2020, experts said the trips were designed to demonstrate the resilience of North Korea’s economy.

On Tuesday, Kim also stressed the need to maintain the party’s strategic line of focusing on economic development with a “spirit of self-reliance,” given what he called the current “tense situation,” according to KCNA.

“The Supreme Leader urged the need for leading officials to fully display a high sense of responsibility and creativity, and the revolutionary spirit of self-
reliance and fortitude in an attitude befitting the masters of the revolution and construction under the prevailing tense situation and thus follow through on the new strategic line of the party,” KCNA reported on his speech to the ruling Politburo.

Although sanctions have undoubtedly made it more difficult for Kim to deliver on his public pledge to provide economic development for the people of North Korea, few experts believe he will cave to external pressure to surrender his nuclear arsenal.

But some say the carrot of economic development may encourage him to limit the size of that arsenal and eventually submit to limited international inspections.

Kim’s remarks came ahead of Thursday’s meeting of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly, the first session since last month’s “elections,” when voters were forced to approve the party’s choices in single-candidate seats.

On Wednesday in Washington, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered some wiggle room in the U.S. government’s long-standing insistence that sanctions on North Korea will be lifted only once the country fully denuclearizes. 

“I want to leave a little space there,” Pompeo told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. “From time to time, there are particular provisions, if we are making substantial progress, where one might think it’s the right thing to do.”

“But yes, the enforcement regime, the core U.N. Security Council resolutions, need to remain in place,” he added.

On Wednesday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies published recent satellite imagery from North Korea suggesting the country might be preparing for a military parade, either on April 15 — the official birthday of founder Kim Il Sung — or on April 25, celebrated as Korean People’s Army Foundation Day. 

“A military parade displaying new weapons systems, including long-range ballistic missiles, may indicate the regime’s retrenchment toward a hardline position and reluctance to denuclearize,” the CSIS report said. 

Kim reported from Seoul.