North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a meeting on Sunday to discuss the country's nuclear capabilities. This was the first appearance in three weeks after an earlier absence sparked global speculation about his health.
Ruling Labor Party officials wore face masks to greet Kim when he entered the party's powerful Central Military Commission, state television showed, but no one, including Kim, was spotted wearing a mask during the meeting.
In the midst of deadlocked denuclearization talks with the United States, measures to strengthen the North Korean armed forces were discussed at the meeting and "the ongoing large or small military threats from the enemy armed forces were reliably contained," said the state news agency KCNA.
The meeting discussed "increasing the deterrence of the country from the nuclear war and putting the strategic forces on alert" and "taking decisive measures to significantly increase the firepower of the artillery," it said.
Kim has made unusually few trips in the past two months, and his absence from an important anniversary has led to speculation about his condition as Pyongyang has stepped up measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.
North Korea claims to have no confirmed cases of the new corona virus, but South Korean intelligence cannot rule out that the north has had an outbreak.
US-led negotiations to dismantle North Korean nuclear and missile programs have made little progress since the end of last year, especially after a global fight against the virus began.
The Chinese government's top diplomat, Wang Yi, expressed hope on Sunday that the United States and North Korea could resume meaningful dialogue as soon as possible, "and not waste the hard-earned results of the (previous) commitment."
North Korea's promise to improve its nuclear capabilities coincides with news that the United States could conduct its first full nuclear test since 1992, noted Leif-Eric Easley, who teaches international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
"The intention in Washington to consider such a move could be to pressure Russia and China to improve commitments and arms control enforcement," said Easley. "But this approach could not only lead these countries to take more nuclear risks, it could also give Pyongyang an excuse for his next provocation."
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)