Kim Jong-un has promoted a career North Korean diplomat and key nuclear negotiator to the US as foreign minister, making her the country’s first woman to have clinched the role.
Choe Son Hui, the 57-year-old nuclear envoy to the US, will become the country’s next foreign minister.
Ms Choe has played a major role in North Korea’s negotiations over its nuclear programme with the US and has earlier served as the country’s deputy foreign minister.
Ms Choe’s appointment comes in the wake of the US announcement that North Korea could be planning its seventh nuclear test. The US has already said it will push for UN sanctions if that happens.
Mr Kim, while announcing the promotion on Saturday through the state-run KCNA news agency, also vowed to use “power for power” to fight for the country’s sovereignty.
Mr Kim was also quoted as saying: “The right to self-defence is an issue of defending sovereignty, clarifying once again the Party’s invariable fighting principle of power for power and head-on contest.”
Meanwhile, North Korea has repeatedly ignored calls from the US to return to the negotiating table.
South Korea’s defence minister Lee Jong-sup and US defence secretary Lloyd Austin both condemned North Korea’s ongoing military activities and preparations for a nuclear test, calling it an unacceptable provocation.
According to a statement by South Korea’s defence ministry, both leaders agreed to “expand the scope and scale of South Korea-US combined exercises as agreed at the two countries’ summit in order to maintain steadfast deterrence and constant readiness”.
Secretary Austin underscored that the US commitment to the defence of South Korea was ironclad and underpinned by the full range of US capabilities, the US defence department said in a statement.