N. Korean leader says he wants better relations with ‘hostile’ nations

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea promised to strive for a more prosperous and modern economy but warned it won’t back down from its nuclear weapons program as a landmark ruling party congress entered its fourth day Monday.

Ruler Kim Jong Un also said his regime wants better relations with nations that have been “hostile,” a possible nod to the U.S., and proposed military talks with South Korea to ease tensions on the world’s most heavily fortified border.

Analysts said the young leader is moving to take advantage of new confidence in his country’s weapons program after staging a fourth nuclear test in January.

“They have an atomic bomb right now. Now they want to show they’re also open for dialogue,” said Joon Hyung-kim, a professor at South Korea’s Handong Global University. “I think North Korea believes they have the key in this situation. They think that time is on their side.”

The Workers’ Party Congress — the first since 1980 when North Korea’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, was still in charge — happened against the backdrop of rising international tensions following January’s underground explosion as well as a long-range rocket launch and a series of other missile tests despite harsh U.N. sanctions.

While the country briefly opened its doors to foreign media for the congress, it clearly is concerned about anything that it considers unflattering. The British Broadcasting Corp. said its correspondent and his producer and cameraman had been detained and were being expelled because of their reporting.

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