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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and military members stand next to what appears to be a hypersonic missile at the National Defense Development Exhibition "Self-Defense 2021," according to the Korean Central News Agency. Photo: KCNA

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared while attending a weapons exhibition that the country had "invincible" defense capabilities as he accused the U.S. of being the source of regional tensions, state media reported Tuesday.

Why it matters: Kim said in a speech at Monday's event that the country was strengthening its weapons arsenal but didn't want a war, per the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

  • He accused the U.S. of being "hostile" as he stood next to weapons including the "Hwasong-16, North Korea's largest ICBM, unveiled at a military parade in October 2020, but not yet test fired," Reuters reports.

Between the lines: KCNA released a photo of Kim standing next to what appears to be a hypersonic missile that the North Korean military claimed to have tested last month. The authenticity of the weapon could not be immediately verified and experts couldn't rule out it being fake.

  • Vipin Narang, a nuclear security expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the Washington Post the weapon had a similar resemblance to China's hypersonic glider, the DF-17, but said it's too early to tell whether it's "legit."
  • "More generally, Kim wants to show us that his deterrent is not only 'complete,' but that he continues to work on improving survivability and penetrability against both [South Korea] and the U.S., like 'normal' nuclear powers do," Narang added.

What else he's saying: Kim also criticized South Korea's government for having a "hypocritical attitude" for denouncing North Korea's weapons program while conducting its own tests and developing its own arsenal — including the purchase of U.S.-made F-35 stealth fighters, Reuters notes.

The big picture: The United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency said in August that North Korea's military appeared to have resumed operations at a key nuclear reactor that's believed to produce fuel for nuclear weapons.

What to watch: A spokesperson for South Korea's defense ministry said that Seoul and Washington intelligence agencies were examining the images of the weapons featured at the exhibition, per Reuters.

  • White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan was due to meet with his South Korean counterpart, Suh Hoon, in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Reuters notes.
  • The Biden administration did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Go deeper

Updated Jan 13, 2022 - World

U.S. presses UN to hit North Korea with more sanctions over missile tests

A broadcast reports on North Korea's Kim Jong-un at the Seoul Railway Station in South Korea. Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The Biden administration on Wednesday imposed sanctions on North Korean and Russian individuals and entities for supporting North Korea's ballistic missile program.

Driving the news: The announcement follows North Korea's two missile tests in the past week and leader Kim Jong-un's threat to bolster the country's nuclear weapons program.

Democrats fail to change Senate rules to pass voting rights bill

Senate Majority Leader during a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrats failed Wednesday night to change Senate filibuster rules to pass the voting rights bill, with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) voting with Republicans.

The big picture: The failed effort came after Senate Republicans blocked the voting rights measure from coming to a final vote earlier Wednesday.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court rejects Trump's attempt to shield documents from Jan. 6 committee

Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

The Supreme Court rejected on Wednesday night a bid by former President Trump to block the release of documents and records from his administration to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Trump asked the Supreme Court to step in and block the release of the documents last month after a panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously denied his attempt to prevent the committee from obtaining the materials.

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