North Korea marked its government’s 69th anniversary not with another missile test, as many had feared, but with a gala party for the scientists involved in carrying out the country’s most powerful nuclear test yet last week, the state-run news media reported on Sunday.
The country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, celebrated the national holiday on Saturday by bringing his nuclear scientists and engineers to Pyongyang, the capital, and holding a banquet.
On their way from the country’s underground nuclear test site in northeast North Korea to Pyongyang, the technicians had been cheered by people who poured out to see them passing by, the country’s official Korean Central News Agency reported. And upon their arrival in the city, on Wednesday, they were met with a hero’s welcome, including a huge outdoor rally and firecrackers.
North Korea described the test, on Sept. 3, as the detonation of a hydrogen bomb that could be delivered on a missile. Mr. Kim’s government called it “a merciless sledgehammer blow to the U.S. imperialists.”
Outside officials and analysts had feared that the country would commemorate the birthday of its government on Saturday by conducting another weapons test, possibly launching another intercontinental ballistic missile.
South Korean officials predicted that such a missile test was almost certain to happen soon, particularly given the tougher sanctions being considered by the United Nations Security Council. On Friday, Washington called for the Council to vote on a draft resolution Monday that would impose new sanctions on North Korea for its latest nuclear test.
During the banquet on Saturday, Mr. Kim spurred his engineers to make “redoubled efforts, not slackening the spirit displayed by them in bringing the great auspicious event of the national history,” the North Korean news agency said.
“ ‘The recent test of the H-bomb is the great victory won by the Korean people at the cost of their blood while tightening their belts in the arduous period,’ ” Mr. Kim was quoted as saying. “He put forward the tasks for the scientists and technicians in the field of defense science to conduct scientific researches for bolstering up the nuclear deterrence of self-defense in the drive to attain the final goal of completing the state nuclear force.”
North Korea launched two ICBMs in July, the last of which demonstrated the potential of reaching the mainland United States.
But North Korea has yet to demonstrate that its warhead would not burn up while re-entering the atmosphere or that it could hit a target with reasonable accuracy, analysts said. The county would probably focus on mastering such technologies in future tests, they said.
Mr. Kim attended his banquet with his wife, Ri Sol-ju, and top members of his ruling Workers’ Party. The party included performances and patriotic songs swearing loyalty to the party and Mr. Kim, the North Korean news media said.
In its report on the banquet, the state news agency mentioned the names of two senior party officials, Ri Man-gon and Hong Sung-mu. Mr. Ri is North Korea’s minister of defense industries, and Mr. Hong is his deputy. As such, they are in charge of the country’s nuclear weapons development.
Mr. Hong accompanied Mr. Kim, the leader, during his recent visit to his country’s Nuclear Weapons Institute, where the head of the institute, Ri Hong-sop, briefed Mr. Kim about what was called a hydrogen bomb. Hours after the photo of the three men together was carried in the North Korean media on Sept. 3, the country conducted its nuclear test.
Later, the North Korean media carried a photo of Mr. Hong and Ri Hong-sop in military uniforms bearing a four-star and a three-star insignia, respectively, and receiving flowers during a ceremony. Mr. Ri once served as director of North Korea’s atomic energy institute at its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, the birthplace of the North’s nuclear weapons program.
All three men, Ri Man-gon, Hong Sung-mu and Ri Hong-sop, have been placed on United Nations sanctions lists.