SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has inspected a newly built submarine and ordered officials to further bolster the country's military capabilities, state media reported Tuesday, as the North increases pressure on the United States ahead of the possible resumption of nuclear diplomacy.
Last week, North Korea said it may lift its 20-month suspension of nuclear and missile tests to protest expected military drills between the United States and South Korea that Pyongyang says are an invasion rehearsal.
The submarine report comes as the U.S. and North Korea work to resume talks agreed to after a meeting late last month on the Korean border between Kim and President Donald Trump.
Diplomacy has been stalled since the second Kim-Trump summit in Vietnam in February fell apart due to differences over U.S.-led sanctions on North Korea.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday that Kim expressed "great satisfaction" with the submarine after learning about its operational and tactical data and weapon systems.
Kim "stressed the need to steadily and reliably increase the national defense capability by directing big efforts to the development of the naval weapons and equipment such as submarine," according to KCNA.
KCNA didn't say exactly when or where Kim's inspection of the submarine occurred. It said the submarine's operational deployment "is near at hand."
The construction of a new submarine suggests North Korea has been increasing its military capability despite nuclear diplomacy with the U.S. that began early last year. North Korea has repeatedly said it's willing to abandon its nuclear program in return for political and economic benefits.
But there has been little public progress despite the most recent Trump-Kim meeting, and the North's release of the submarine photos could be a way to both increase pressure on the United States ahead of any renewed talks and remind its rival of its demands.
North Korea wants widespread relief from harsh U.S.-led sanctions in return for pledging to give up parts of its weapons program, but the United States is demanding greater steps toward disarmament before it agrees to relinquish the leverage provided by the sanctions.
It wasn't immediately known exactly what kind of a submarine North Korea has built. But its efforts to develop submarine-launched missile systems are a serious concern for rivals and neighbors because missiles from submerged vessels are harder to detect in advance.
Before it entered talks with the United States, North Korea claimed to have successfully test-fired ballistic missiles from submarines, though many outside analysts say the country likely remains years away from having an operational system.
According to a South Korean defense report in 2018, North Korea has 70 submarines and submersibles.