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How JetBlue Founder David Neeleman Launched a New Airline During a Pandemic

Neeleman has overcome some crazy setbacks on his way to becoming the most successful serial airline entrepreneur in history. So why would he let a global pandemic get in the way of launching his latest carrier?



THE ICY WEATHER SYSTEM that trundled up the Atlantic Seaboard and glazed New York City on February 14, 2007, was nasty, but not the worst that airlines had ever confronted. Mainline carriers such as American and Delta knew the drill. They canceled flights in anticipation while moving equipment and crews to sidestep the storm and minimize disruptions. The newer kid on the tarmac, JetBlue, flew into the storm face first. And flopped.

The low-cost carrier was barely seven years old, growing rapidly and happily because customers loved its panache, pricing, and product–comfortable seating, free satellite TV, and freewheeling yet attentive flight crews. Concentrating its fleet in New York and Boston made the carrier more vulnerable to winter weather, though, and as the storm began to wreak havoc on operations, JetBlue swiftly learned that its communications and logistics networks had not scaled with the rest of the outfit. With crews stuck out of place, the airline would cancel more than 1,000 flights over five abysmal days, stranding customers from the Caribbean to Queens. One jet full of passengers sat on the tarmac for eight hours. The debacle ultimately cost the airline $30 million.

Even before the storm had passed, JetBlue founder and CEO David Neeleman was conducting a nonstop apology tour, vowing to upgrade systems and make things right by customers. “This is going to be a different company because of this,” he told The New York Times. He was right about that. Three months later, JetBlue announced that Neeleman was leaving the CEO post and becoming chairman. At least Neeleman wasn’t aboard a flight when his own board shoved him out the door.

If you are looking for a case study of an entrepreneur who gets repeatedly sucker-punched by exogenous events, Neeleman is it. He’s also a study in rebounding. In the early 1990s, he built his first airline, Morris Air, out of the wreckage of his own failed travel agency. He launched JetBlue less than two years before 9/11 grounded the airlines for weeks, curbed travel for a year, and bankrupted most of the industry. Then came that storm. “You can’t control everything,” he says now, without any particular malice.

“I wrote an email to the crew and said, ‘It doesn’t really matter what happens to you in life; it’s how you deal with it.’ “

Neeleman began to build Breeze, his fifth airline startup, just before Covid-19 emptied the nation’s airports. That was after he’d returned from Brazil, where he started the wildly successful Azul Airlines in 2008. “I had 50 people hired for Breeze and we were moving along the track,” he says, munching airline snacks on a recent Monday in the upstart’s empty offices in the basement of a beige building in Darien, Connecticut. “It would have been easy for me to say, ‘Sorry, I just can’t do this.’ ” While major airlines, including Delta, United, and American, would get more than $50 billion in loans and grants from the federal government to weather the pandemic, Neeleman would have to plow his own money, some $30 million, into his fledgling business. (The company later got less than $1 million in PPP money.) “But a lot of the Breeze team left their jobs to come here,” he says, “and I just felt that I owed it to them to do it. So I said, OK, let’s make this happen. Let’s keep a foot on the brake and a foot on the gas.”

After more than a year-long takeoff roll, Breeze gets airborne on May 23 with flights in 16 cities beginning with Charleston, S.C., Tampa, Florida and Hartford, Connecticut. The network will then expand through July 22 as far west as Tulsa, Oklahoma and also including Northwest Arkansas (aka Bentonville, where Walmart is headquartered.) In October, Breeze will expand again when the first of its Airbus A220s arrive. Ticket prices will initially range from $39 to $89 one way.

Breeze’s initial route map. The company says that 95 percent of its routes currently have no airline serving them nonstop. COURTESY COMPANY

We tend to think of the airline industry as a business with a high barrier to entry–all those pricey planes and terminals. But entry is not nearly so difficult as keeping an airline flying profitably over a long period of time, as dozens of defunct carriers (Braniff, anyone?) can demonstrate. Neeleman’s ability to spot opportunity and pair the right customer service with exacting operational efficiency has helped him defy the odds more often than any other airline entrepreneur. So has a sort of tunnel vision that comes with attention deficit disorder–a disability that led to one huge career setback but also fueled his success.

“There are two phrases I’ve heard a lot,” he says. “One is, ‘Well, David, if that was such a good idea people would have done it already.’ Really? The other is: ‘David, It’s not that simple.’ ” He pauses. “Well, yes, it is–it is that simple.”

THE HISTORY OF AVIATION is filled with dashing figures. Pan Am co-founder Juan Trippe was a true titan who made air travel glamorous in the 1930s and introduced the jet age. Eddie Rickenbacker, the unkillable racecar driver and World War I fighter ace, bought and built Eastern Air Lines. Howard Hughes, the wildly eccentric entrepreneur, airplane designer, and Hollywood producer, largely created TWA. Fast-forward and there’s Richard Branson, the music mogul who brought his personal Cool Britannia brand to Virgin Atlantic. And let’s not forget Herb Kelleher, a fun-seeking Texan lawyer who loved people, cigarettes, and Wild Turkey (not always in that order) and co-founded Southwest.

Then there’s Neeleman, just a guy from Salt Lake City. And it is he–a casual, approachable fellow in a fleece vest with all the menace of a suburban dad–who may prove to be the most relentless innovator of all. Breeze, whose inaugural flight will take off in mid-May, is a reimagining of what high-quality, low-cost air service can look like. Ever since JetBlue, Neeleman has, like the kid peering into the circus tent, longed to get back into the U.S. airline industry. But just wanting something doesn’t make a business plan, so for years he looked for the right angle and moment.

The opportunity that revealed itself was this: The major players had not only plumped their profits in the past decade, but had also plumped their costs. Their labor contracts had grown fatter–which was only fair, given their growing profitability. To compensate for rising costs, the big carriers were diverting more travelers through their hubs, where they could fill the bigger planes that they were buying.

Neeleman had seen this before–it’s a repeating cycle in his industry–and he knew it opened the door to flying directly between smaller markets. Allegiant, Spirit, and Frontier, which created the ultra-low- cost-carrier (ULCC) segment, had already taken advantage of that opening. Neeleman’s angle: Use technology to offer better service and a little more class than the ULCCs but keep fares just as low–and sum it all up for people by calling Breeze “Seriously Nice.” (The company originally toyed with the term “the world’s nicest airline.”)

So it is that Breeze takes wing in what is either the best or the worst time in history to start an airline. Worst because the big carriers have burned cash at a rate of $25 million to $30 million a day in 2021. Best because vaccinations and herd immunity will allow people to travel again freely. Breeze will be waiting for them with a fleet of 13 Embraer 190s and E195s. The company will add long-range Airbus 220s in the fall.

In the air, Breeze won’t pile people on top of one another, won’t slam them with excessive fees, and will offer three seating categories: Nice, Nicer, and Nicest–the last a value-priced business-class option on the A220s. At launch, Breeze will fly 49 direct routes from 15 cities, beginning with Tampa to Charleston, North Carolina; other cities include Pittsburgh, Nashville, and New Orleans. Think Rust Belt to Sun Belt.

The linchpin is a passenger app that Breeze will use to lower costs while removing friction and enhancing the customer’s experience–from reservations to check-in to baggage to ordering food or a ride home. “When I started JetBlue, it was a customer service company that just happened to fly airplanes,” Neeleman says. “Breeze is a technology company that just happens to fly airplanes.”

After founding JetBlue and getting pushed out, Neeleman launched Azul Airlines in Brazil. Those are just twof of the carriers he’s created. GETTY IMAGES

NEELEMAN, 61, got into the passenger aviation business through a side hustle that went upside down. He was born in Brazil, where his father was first a Mormon missionary and then a journalist. After growing up mostly in Utah, Neeleman, too, got sent to Brazil for his mission. After he came home, a University of Utah classmate related how a friend had time-shares in Hawaiian condos that he couldn’t move. Neeleman, who got started in business at the age of 9 in his grandfather’s grocery, asked for a meeting. In the deal he struck to market the time-shares, he’d pay the owner a set price per night, and anything above that was his to keep. He cleared $350 on his first booking; soon other time-share owners were asking for help too.

He took the next logical step, buying airline tickets in bulk at a discount and packaging them to his Hawaii-bound condo customers. Before long, he had a $6 million company. He dropped out of school. And then, shortly before Christmas 1983, he got a call from the startup airline that had been flying all of his customers. It was going out of business. Neeleman’s company, in turn, went bust returning money to customers whose vacations had been ruined.

Like his hero, Southwest co-founder Herb Kelleher, Neeleman is a people collector. And for Breeze, he got part of the JetBlue band back together.

June and Mitch Morris, who owned a Salt Lake travel agency, had taken note of what the young entrepreneur was doing. Under their wing, he set up shop again, this time as Morris Air–first as a charter service, and then as a scheduled airline. In expanding Morris Air, Neeleman and the Morrises studied Southwest and its CEO, Kelleher, intently, and they copied as much as they could in both operations and culture. By the 1990s, they had expanded to more than a dozen cities.

In 1993, June Morris, ill with cancer, contacted Kelleher to ask about combining their two companies. Southwest bought Morris Air for $129 million in stock, and Neeleman moved to Southwest as part of the deal. (Happily, June Morris would recover.) To Neeleman, it was a dream scenario, because he would get to work with Kelleher, his hero, and had a shot at taking over the company one day. “He led me to believe that if I minded my P’s and Q’s, I would be his successor someday,” Neeleman told NPR in 2019.

Five months later, Kelleher fired Neeleman. The reasoning: Even your biggest fans can’t take any more of you, Kelleher told him. Neeleman wasn’t minding his P’s and Q’s as much as obsessing over them, trying to make his mark on Southwest and failing to keep his ADD in check. He’d been in charge of merging the two organizations over a two-year timeline. He’d gotten it done in six months but had driven his colleagues to distraction with his intensity.

Back in Salt Lake once again, Neeleman dreamed of starting another domestic airline, but he had signed a five-year noncompete clause. He looked to Canada and became an investor and co-founder of WestJet. And he thought about innovations he could bring to the industry even without planes. A relational database that Neeleman and a Morris Air colleague had developed to analyze fares, schedules, and profitability, as well as issue e-tickets, became the basis for a new reservation and data platform, Navitaire. It’s used by many airlines today, including Breeze. The pair sold Navitaire to Hewlett-Packard in 1998.

When he founded JetBlue in 2000, Neeleman leaned heavily on one of the concepts he’d borrowed from Kelleher: servant leadership. (The phrase was actually coined by AT&T exec Robert K. Greenleaf.) It’s a popular philosophy and simple concept: You work for your employees, not the other way around–and one of the key aspects is walking the talk. If you make it everyone’s responsibility to serve the customer, then you’d better do likewise, boss. Kelleher would regularly work on board, serving drinks (naturally) and even helping clean planes–quick turnarounds were vital to Southwest’s success.

Neeleman transported the concept of happy people running a happy airline to New York. He moved his family east–not easy with nine kids in tow–and raised $135 million. And, like Kelleher, he set the tone by prowling JetBlue’s planes, serving beverages, asking customers how he could do better. And he helped clean the jets. “The more people you serve, the more lives you change, the happier you are too,” he has said.

Like Kelleher, Neeleman is a people collector. For Breeze, he got part of the JetBlue band back together. Critically, he added recruits from ULCC pioneer Allegiant, who brought with them strategic financial insights. “A lot of the team members joined for a similar reason: They worked with him in the past or they knew he was a visionary who could create something special,” says CFO Trent Porter, a former Allegiant executive.

“It’s his energy. His leadership style is so different from that of most CEOs,” says Doreen DePastino, Breeze’s vice president of inflight, station operations, and guest services and one of the JetBlue tribe. “He really wants to know his team members. People gravitate toward him.” When you combine vision with charisma, it’s easier to get people to buy into ideas that might seem far-fetched, such as putting a television screen in every seatback (a JetBlue innovation). “People would say, ‘This isn’t going to work,’ and all of a sudden we’d do it, and it would work,” DePastino says.


THE STRATEGIC CHALLENGE of running an airline boils down to this: Where do we fly, at what operating cost level, and how do we differentiate customer service? These are analogous to issues most businesses face, but in aviation everything is magnified. At JetBlue and now Breeze, Neeleman has sought new answers.

The “where” question has been perhaps the easiest one to figure out for Breeze–because, even before the pandemic, both the major airlines and the ULCCs were giving up turf. Partly because of their union contracts, which limited their ability to fly smaller jets, the majors were packing more people onto bigger planes. As the ULCCs matured, they did the same thing. “With bigger planes, you have to chase bigger and bigger markets,” explains Lukas Johnson, Breeze’s chief commercial officer, a job he held at Allegiant. Small and medium markets get left behind. “A lot of cities in the middle of the country haven’t seen a lot of seat growth in recent years,” he says.

The Breeze app is designed to eliminate chokepoints between passengers and planes. That means fewer people on the ground and lower cost.

When Breeze analyzed the data, it discovered a whole category of cities and routes being underserved. The FAA compiles a statistic called passengers daily each way (PDEW) that contains exactly where people are traveling and what they are paying on average. A market such as Huntsville, Alabama, to Orlando has relatively low PDEW because it’s inconvenient to fly between those two points; passengers have to change at Atlanta or Charlotte. In city pairs like this, Breeze thinks it can expand the PDEW exponentially by offering direct service. “Suddenly, people look at it and say I can fly there in an hour and for 59 bucks. I’m going to go three or four times a year. It just creates a market,” says Neeleman. (In this case, the market is called VFF, as in visiting friends and family.)

Breeze also aims to gain a cost edge in the types of planes it flies. Most airlines aim to optimize a metric called cost per available seat mile, which is measured against revenue per available seat mile–the general idea being that revenue should exceed cost, which is variable. At Azul, Neeleman came to understand that an airplane’s trip costs–the fixed costs–could be just as important in gaining a competitive advantage. And that’s where an efficient Airbus 220-300 could win. Running that jet, for instance, costs just a third of what the larger A321 costs. The bigger jet may have lower average seat cost, but has much higher total costs, especially as the distance expands. “In that case, the lower trip cost wins,” says Johnson.

There’s no formula for the third leg of Breeze’s strategy, which the company, after some refinement of the catchphrase “the world’s nicest airline” now calls “Seriously Nice”. One thing nice is not, says Neeleman, is an employee who smiles at you after you’ve waited in line for 30 minutes. The Breeze app is designed to eliminate chokepoints between passengers and planes. That means fewer people on the ground and lower cost.

Breeze is also introducing a program in which it will hire college interns from Utah Valley University and mold them into customer service machines. In exchange for salary, free tuition, and housing, the students will undergo training and then work 15 or so days a month while taking their college courses online. “The big thing is we are going to provide a great service with kind people on a beautiful airplane with a fun atmosphere,” says DePastino.

As Neeleman has prepared for Breeze’s launch over the past year, the pandemic has changed the industry’s chessboard in the company’s favor. The majors were forced to drastically reduce their fleets, retiring the least efficient jets and abandoning marginal markets wholesale. That’s a scenario made for Breeze. “Larger markets are on our list now,” says Porter. “The total space we can address is actually larger.”

That window won’t be open for long. The recovery of the domestic airline industry is gaining momentum by the month, and airlines are restoring service as fast as they can. Airports and jets will fill. There will be more and longer lines, and customers with frustrations. Neeleman, who cannot abide lines–they signal inefficiency and inattention to customers–will be there observing, serving the occasional customer himself, and always, always looking for new angles. “It drives me crazy when I go to an airport and walk by Starbucks and there are 50 people in line,” says a man who doesn’t even drink coffee. “How in the hell can we reimagine this whole thing?”

The data suggests that roughly one new airline a decade actually thrives. Neeleman’s done it an unprecedented four times and thinks he can do it again. His record suggests it should be a breeze–albeit with occasional turbulence.


Border Crisis Shows Few Signs of Slowing As Migrant Encounters, Fentanyl Seizures Stay High

Border officials encountered more than 180,000 migrants in May



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The Biden administration has been facing a continuing crisis at the southern border after taking office in January, and so far there are few signs of it slowing down significantly – with the number of migrants and seizures of the deadly drug fentanyl continuing to rise.

There were more than 180,000 migrant encounters in May, yet another increase from the more than 178,000 in April and that has been increasing sharply from the 78,000 in January – although the numbers have been increasing since April of last year.

The 180,034 May encounters is up massively from the 23,237 seen last year, and even higher than the 144,166 in May 2019 at the peak of that year’s border crisis.

The Biden administration has noted that 112,302 mostly single adults were expelled via Title 42 public health restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and so the numbers of migrants making multiple efforts into the U.S. may have increased. However, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has left open the possibility of ending Title 42 restrictions once the risk of the pandemic subsides – and is under pressure from the Democratic Party’s left flank to do so.

Meanwhile, images have continued to surface of unaccompanied children – who the Biden administration is not removing via Title 42 – being dumped at the border by smugglers and left to fend for themselves.

Drug seizures over all are up by 18 percent in May from April 2021. While that number is actually lower overall compared to May 2020 and a number of other months in both FY 2020 and 2021, seizures of the deadly drug fentanyl are significantly higher – up by more than 300% over May last year. CPB said that seizures of the fatal drug through May in FY 2021 are 56% higher than all of FY 2020.

Fentanyl, an opioid for pain treatment, is between 50 and 100 times more potent than morphine. More than 36,000 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl in 2019, according to the CDC.

As more migrants come to the border, it is leaving more becoming stranded in the wilderness and the increasing heat. Agents have encountered U-Hauls packed with migrants with temperatures of more than 100 degrees.

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This $600 Billion Wealth Fund Got Caught in a Power Struggle



A $600 billion sovereign wealth fund is caught in the crosshairs of a political power struggle that’s roiling one of the world’s richest countries.

The Kuwait Investment Authority, the world’s oldest state investment vehicle, has been in limbo since its board’s tenure expired two months ago. A new term has yet to be approved as political differences spill over into a disagreement over the make-up of the nine-member board, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The uncertainty now hanging over the KIA, which manages Kuwait’s vast oil wealth through two key funds, is emblematic of a broader malaise that’s paralyzed policy making, prompted ratings agencies to warn of downgrades and perversely left the government of a major OPEC crude exporter scrambling for cash. KIA officials were not immediately available for comment.

It’s all part of a deep standoff between members of the only elected parliament in the Gulf and a government whose leader is appointed by the ruling Emir, a deadlock that’s blocked the state from borrowing and left it with barely enough to pay public sector salaries. The dispute’s also delaying investment and economic reforms, including an overhaul of the welfare state the government says is needed to end eight consecutive years of budget deficits.

“The signals this sends are very negative,” said Kuwaiti businessman and economist Abdullah Al-Shami, who owns two companies specialized in medical and financial services. “It is a new low and I can justify that by saying we have two political agendas and so two economic agendas. The first is going toward new liberal policies adopted by the West and the other wants to maintain the welfare system as it is.”

arliament speaker Marzouq Alghanim called Sunday for a special session this week to approve the budget, a pressing item currently on the assembly’s agenda. In a message that appeared to be aimed at feuding politicians, he said the interests of citizens should rise above all political differences.

Once a booming economy at the forefront of Gulf Arab affairs, Kuwait has long since been eclipsed by neighbors unshackled by elected institutions and bent on securing their seat on the international stage. Dubai established itself as the region’s business capital, while in Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has embarked on an ambitious plan to remake the economy.

In contrast, Kuwait’s new Emir is already in his 80s and contends with an outspoken 50-member National Assembly dominated since elections in December by independent and opposition lawmakers representing constituents increasingly angry with the status quo and pushing a populist agenda.

The death of Kuwait’s former Emir in September left a vacuum in a decision-making machine that looks to the ruler to set the national trajectory, dashing early hopes that change at the top would imbue the country with a new sense of purpose.

“People are trying to survive in the private sector but the government has no strategy,” said Khaled Al-Ansari who is partner in a law firm and is involved in three family businesses. “The future is unimaginable. We see Dubai and Saudi trying to attract business and develop. They may survive better than us, based on what they’re doing now.”

Corruption Crackdown

Allegations of bribe-taking, money-laundering and influence-peddling by senior judges and officials have dominated social media in recent months, as the government embarks on an unprecedented and very public cleanup it hopes will appease critics and pave the way to fiscal reforms that can get the economy back on track.

An ex-premier and other high-ranking officials have been arrested in the anti-corruption drive, but it’s been dismissed as window-dressing by many Kuwaitis while parliamentarians are absorbed by a tug-of-war playing out in the house.

Opposition lawmakers have focused their attention on trying to unseat the speaker and overturn a government-backed vote that prevents them from questioning the premier until late 2022. They’ve vowed to block regular sessions until their demands are met, paralyzing decision-making.

“We’re calling for the Emir to intervene because we refuse to deal with a prime minister who violates the constitution and a speaker who won by government votes,” said opposition lawmaker Mubarak Al-Hajraf. “Now we have the former prime minister and his interior minister in prison on embezzlement charges. People are more convinced by our rhetoric.”

In the midst of that wrangling, parliament has paid scant attention to a bill that would allow the government to issue international bonds to finance the deficit, and have opposed any reallocation of state handouts, though nearly three-quarters of expenditure is soaked up by salaries and subsidies.

The government needs parliamentary approval for most major initiatives in its economic program, including the introduction of a Value Added Tax and an excise duty to boost non-oil revenues as well as a plan to rethink state subsidies and privatize some of Kuwait’s state-owned assets. All have been blocked for the past decade.

Running a deficit of $3.3 billion a month, the government resorted to quick-fix measures to meet financial commitments last year when oil prices plunged and the pandemic hit. If the situation continues as is, Kuwait will build a cumulative budget deficit of $184 billion over the next five years.

“There’s a real failure of leadership. The ruling transition as well as the test of the pandemic offered the opportunity to build national unity and shared purpose but that moment has been lost,” said Kristin Diwan, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “There’s no escape from politics in Kuwait. Leaders have to build coalitions for change by working the public and the parliament. It is a strenuous test, but one with potential payoffs unavailable to more autocratic rulers.”

A Backward Trajectory

The economy’s saving grace, the $600 billion Future Generations Fund that’s run by the KIA and designed as a savings pot for life after oil, is also largely unbreakable without parliament’s approval. The General Reserve, used for government spending and also managed by the KIA, is now only sustained by higher oil prices.

The result is a country that despite its enormous wealth is ill-prepared to withstand external shocks such as Covid-19. The economy contracted by almost 10% in 2020, worse than any of its Gulf peers bar neighboring Iraq, a country battered by decades of war and sanctions.

Because Kuwait hasn’t experienced the generational transition in leadership seen elsewhere in the Gulf, there’s a failure to connect with younger Kuwaitis and benefit from their full potential, according to Diwan. It’s a disconnect that’s left younger generations with a sense that change is coming.

“We’re worried about the future but young Kuwaitis are more empowered now, many are trying to create their own wealth and are less tolerant of corruption,” said Anan Al-Subaihi, who has a doctorate in banking and investment. She said Kuwaitis have many ways to raise their grievances now, especially via social media, where they can criticize more freely.

“The balance of power is changing, even though the strategic direction isn’t clear.”

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Kim Jong-un Says He’s Ready for ‘Dialogue and Confrontation’ With Biden

During a Workers’ Party meeting, the North Korean leader reviewed the new U.S. policy on his country and ordered “counteraction,” state news media reported.



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During a Workers’ Party meeting, the North Korean leader reviewed the new U.S. policy on his country and ordered “counteraction,” state news media reported.

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, ordered his government to prepare for “both dialogue and confrontation” with the United States, in his first reaction to the Biden administration’s new policy on how to deal with the country’s growing nuclear and missile threat, state news media reported on Friday.

After a months long policy review, the White House said in April that it had reached “a clear understanding​”​ that the efforts of the past four U.S. administrations ​had failed to denuclearize North Korea, although they had tried both dialogue and sanctions. It added that President Biden would pursue “a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy” with North Korea​.

During a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party on Thursday, Mr. Kim “made a detailed analysis” of the Biden administration’s North Korea policy, “clarified appropriate strategic and tactical counteraction” and “stressed the need to get prepared for both dialogue and confrontation, especially to get fully prepared for confrontation,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported.

Although the news agency said that the party had unanimously adopted a resolution, it did not disclose details. It indicated that the meeting would continue on Friday.

Mr. Kim’s comments came days before Sung Kim, Mr. Biden’s new special envoy on North Korea, was to meet with senior South Korean and Japanese officials in Seoul next week to discuss how to deal with North Korea. The North’s nuclear arsenal has been expanding despite international sanctions and the country’s deepening economic difficulties.

This week, Mr. Kim warned of a looming food shortage​, ​prompting some analysts in ​South Korea to suggest that North Korea might be more willing to start a dialogue to win outside aid.

During a summit in Washington last month, Mr. Biden and his South Korean counterpart, President Moon Jae-in, agreed to build on the 2018 Singapore agreement struck by Mr. Kim and President Donald J. Trump​. Both Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump have counted that deal as one of their biggest foreign-policy achievements, although it set only a vaguely worded goal of denuclearizing and settling peace on the peninsula.

Officials in the Biden administration have said they have been trying to establish contact with North Korea to explain their new policy. ​ The United States and North Korea have also not disclosed details of their broadly worded approaches, closely guarding them ahead of the possible resumption of negotiations.

But North Korea has insisted ​since January ​that it will “counter the U.S. on the principle of power for power and good will for good will” — a stance Mr. Kim appeared to reiterate this week.

Mr. Kim declared his power-for-power approach during a Workers’ Party congress in January, emphasizing that his country was willing to establish a “new relationship” with the United States ​only ​if Washington withdrew its “hostile policy,” a stock phrase the North has used to refer to sanctions and the threat it said the United States military presence posed in the region. Mr. Kim also called his country “a responsible nuclear weapons state” that would not misuse its nuclear weapons. ​

North Korea successfully launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2017 that it said were powerful enough to reach parts or all of the continental United States. Mr. Kim then declared a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests and met with Mr. Trump three times between 2018 and early 2019 with the hopes of lifting sanctions that have increasingly strangled his country’s economy.

But his diplomacy with Mr. Trump collapsed without an agreement on how to dismantle the North’s nuclear arsenal or when to ease sanctions.

North Korea has since resumed missile tests that involved short-range projectiles. It demonstrated its expanding weapons threat by launching a new ballistic missile in March — the first such test by the country in a year and its first significant provocation against the United States under Mr. Biden.

Commercial satellite images have ​also shown activities in a nuclear complex north of Pyongyang, where the country has been making fuel for atomic bombs.

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