SEOUL (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country is ready to mobilise its nuclear war deterrent and for any military clash with the United States, state media reported on Thursday (July 28), amid signs the North could conduct its first nuclear test since 2017.

Kim made the remarks during a speech at an event to mark the 69th anniversary of the July 27 Korean War armistice, which left the two Koreas technically still at war, according to the official KCNA news agency.

Kim, making his first appearance in public in nearly three weeks, delivered one of his strongest rhetorical attacks against South Korea since conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol took office in May and pledged to take a tough line toward Pyongyang.

The North Korean leader said that “US imperialists are pushing the South Korean authorities into a suicidal confrontation” with his nation, KCNA reported.

“The South Korean regime and its military thugs are devising tactics to confront us militarily,” Kim said.

“Such a dangerous attempt will be immediately punished by our powerful force, and the Yun Suk Yeol regime and his army will be eliminated.”

Kim has been stepping up his provocations this year while US attention has been diverted towards Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

North Korea in recent months tested hypersonic missiles and missiles that it says could carry tactical nuclear weapons, narrowing the time that Seoul would have to respond to a pending attack.

The US push to isolate Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, coupled with increasing animosity towards China, has allowed Kim to strengthen his nuclear deterrent without fear of facing more sanctions at the UN Security Council.

There’s almost no chance Russia or China, which have veto power at the council, would support any measures against North Korea, as they did in 2017 following a series of weapons tests that prompted former president Donald Trump to warn of “fire and fury”. 

Kim often drops out of the public eye in the summer for stays at his coastal mansion and megayacht.

But any prolonged absence raises questions about the health of the 38-year-old, whose longest time out of without a public appearance as leader was six weeks in 2014.

His last appearance in state media came on July 9 when he appeared at a photo session with ruling party cadres.