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North Korea Confident of Victory Over U.S. in Nuclear Standoff

North Korea said Monday it will win the dispute with the United States over its nuclear development, praising the communist government's "ultra-hardline" military stance.

"In the North Korea-U.S. nuclear standoff, which the world is watching with sweating hands, we were always ultra-hardline and that ultra-hardline response is the response of the mighty army-first policy," said the North's state-run Central Radio.

"The victory in the nuclear conflict is ours and the red flag of the army-first policy will flutter ever more vigorously," said the broadcast, monitored by South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

Washington and its allies are pressuring North Korea to abandon its weapons programs. But the North has insisted on direct talks first with the United States, from whom it wants a nonaggression treaty.

Kim Jong Il rules the communist country as the chairman of the national defense commission and the supreme commander of the 1.1 million-member military under his so-called "army-first" policy.

North Korea on Sunday celebrated Kim's 61st birthday, one of the nation's biggest holidays, with pledges of loyalty and anti-U.S. diatribes.

The crisis began in October when U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted having a nuclear weapons program. Washington and its allies suspended fuel shipments, and the North in turn expelled U.N. monitors, took steps to restart frozen nuclear facilities and withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Pressure has been building on the communist state in the past week. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently referred the issue to the U.N. Security Council.

The council could consider economic sanctions against North Korea. Pyongyang has said it would consider any such punishment as a declaration of war.