In a carefully choreographed show of strength and celebration to mark the 70th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party, hundreds of troops marched in elaborate formations across Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square, which was festooned with national and party flags, footage from state broadcaster KCTV showed.
Kim watched the extravaganza from a viewing platform and gave a rare live televised speech. Last year, Kim didn't show during a mysterious absence that lasted over a month.
"Our party can confidently state that our revolutionary armament today can deal with any kind of war U.S. imperialists ask for, and we are fully ready to persistently defend the country's blue sky and the well-being of the people," he told the gathered crowds.
North Korea's regime is fond of saber rattling and has made plenty of threats before
. Intimidating words about the United States and South Korea have been more the norm than not for years.
Foreign dignitaries, media and tourists gathered in Pyongyang for the spectacle, which saw fighter jets flying in a "70" formation.
Message from China
A Chinese delegation led by Liu Yunshan, who is one of the top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, met Kim and delivered a message from President Xi Jinping, according to North Korean state media KCNA
International observers will be scrutinizing the weekend's celebrations for details including who appears with Kim in public for clues into his inner circle, as well as what kind of military hardware Pyongyang parades and whether the leadership will conduct any sort of weapons testing.
The preparations for the Workers' Party of Korea anniversary appear to have begun as early as May, when satellite images captured approximately 45 tents assembled at a former Pyongyang airbase, according to an analysis posted on website 38 North
By October, that area had swelled to about 800 tents, 700 trucks and 200 armored vehicles, with people appearing to move in formations "possibly in preparation for the parade," wrote Joseph Bermudez Jr, an analyst on North Korean affairs.
He concluded that "regardless of whether ballistic missiles are present or not, (it) will be one of the largest in North Korea's history."
Major holiday for North Korea
The parade is one of North Korea's most significant holidays -- next to the birthdays of the country's founder Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il.
"We want to celebrate in the most significant way," Sin Un Gyong, a North Korean student told CNN's Will Ripley in Pyongyang before parade.
The Workers' Party of Korea is the political party that governs and runs North Korea.
"The Workers' Party is the locus of power in North Korea," Sung-Yoon Lee, professor of Korean Studies at Tufts University. "The party runs everything."
It was founded 70 years ago, after World War II and following the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea. With the Korean peninsula in disarray, a group chaired by Kim Il Sung in the Soviet-occupied northern part formed the Communist political party that came to be known as the Workers' Party of Korea.
Kim held control of the party, and membership became highly coveted as it meant better job prospects, status and quality of life for elite North Koreans.
His heirs, son Kim Jong Il and grandson Kim Jong Un, have held the central role in the party, although their official titles have all differed. Kim Jong Un retains the title of first secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea.
"We have this notion that it's the military calling the shots," Lee said.
"It isn't. It's actually the party controlling the military. In the simplest sense, the party makes all key personnel decisions in the military, who gets promoted, who gets executed.
"Because the party is so central to the system hierarchy, the 70th anniversary is very important and I think North Korea has an internal and external need to use this occasion to show off and to show the world and U.S. its weapons with mid or long-range capabilities."