(2nd LD) N. Korea holds key party meeting amid reports of nuclear test possibility
(ATTN: ADDS comments by gov't official in paras 9-11)
By Yi Wonju
SEOUL, June 9 (Yonhap) -- A key Workers' Party meeting of North Korea opened earlier this week with leader Kim Jong-un in attendance to discuss state policies, according to Pyongyang's media, as speculation is rampant that it may soon carry out a nuclear test.
The previous day, Kim presided over the fifth enlarged plenary meeting of the party's eighth Central Committee, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said. It stopped short of giving details, including agenda items and when the session is scheduled to end.
The agency reported earlier that the meeting would be held to make an interim review of state policies for 2022 and to decide on a "series of important issues."
"It began the agenda discussion amid high political enthusiasm of all the participants who are fully aware of their important duty in the historic struggle for prosperity and development of our great country and the people's wellbeing," the KCNA said.
The fourth plenary session took place late last year.
The meeting this time, in particular, has drawn keen attention from the outside world as it comes amid signs that the North's seventh nuclear test is imminent. South Korean and U.S. officials said the North appeared to have completed related preparations.
The North may issue a new message justifying its nuclear development through the party meeting, observers here say.
In advance of a nuclear test in 2017, the North held a presidium session of the political bureau and adopted an agenda on carrying out the hydrogen bomb test.
The South's government is keeping close tabs on the possibility of the North unveiling its internal and external policy directions.
"The Ministry of Unification hopes that the plenary meeting will provide an opportunity for the North to move toward achieving real progress in denuclearization and normalization of inter-Korean relations, as well as stabilizing the lives of the North Korean people," a ministry official said on the customary condition of anonymity.
Regarding a possible nuclear test, South Korea is closely tracking and monitoring related facilities while maintaining a firm readiness posture under close coordination with the U.S., he added, in a position echoed by the defense authorities.
The North has also often used such high-profile party events to offer clues to its approach toward South Korea and the United States. Inter-Korean ties are still frosty, while denuclearization talks with the United States remain stalled.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party, which has fiercely criticized the previous Moon Jae-in administration's North Korea policy, was sworn in last month. The North has a track record of escalating tensions on the peninsula in the early months of a new South Korean government.
A plenary session of the Central Committee usually takes place at least once a year to decide its key policy line, organization reshuffles and other major issues. This week's session is likely to continue for at least two days.
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