SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea urged its impoverished people Saturday to rally around Stalinist leader Kim Jong Il (search), after Washington rebuffed the communist North's demand that the two sides hold bilateral talks to curb nuclear tension.
Pyongyang's state-run daily newspaper Rodong Sinmun (search) allotted the whole front page of its Saturday edition to an editorial saying "the single-minded unity serves as the strongest weapon," said the official news agency KCNA.
"At a time like today, when the situation gets tense, no task is more important than to strengthen our single-minded unity," the editorial said.
Minju Joson (search), another state-run daily, said that "devotedly protecting the leader is our life and soul."
North Korea also repeated warnings of military clashes on its loosely defined and tense western sea border with South Korea. It accused the South of infiltrating a warship into the communist state's waters Saturday following "a grave situation created due to the U.S. imperialist warhawks' invariable hostile policy toward the (North)."
North Korea's navy command said "such dangerous military provocations may entail a very serious disaster," according to a news release carried by KCNA.
The accusations, repeated several times in recent weeks and denied by the South, coincided with the worsening nuclear standoff. The two Koreas fought bloody naval skirmishes in western waters in 1999 and 2002.
The surge in communist rhetoric followed North Korea's announcement Thursday that it had nuclear weapons for self-defense.
With that declaration, Kim brandished his strongest diplomatic card yet and dramatically escalated the nuclear standoff with Washington and its allies. North Korea's claim could not be independently verified.
It remained unclear whether North Korea intended to remain a nuclear power or was trying to use the weapons as a bargaining chip to win aid, diplomatic recognition and a nonaggression treaty with Washington — measures the North believes will guarantee the survival of Kim's regime.
International experts believe the North has one or two atomic bombs. North Korea is not known to have performed any nuclear tests, and it kicked out U.N. inspectors in 2002.
The CIA has estimated that with a highly enriched uranium weapons program and the use of sophisticated high-speed centrifuges, North Korea could be making more. Some analysts and observers have put the estimate at six to eight.
As the standoff intensified between Pyongyang and Washington, newspapers in South Korea urged the government Saturday to stand firm against North Korea.
"We should be resolute against any nuclear problems that decisively threaten our national security," the mass-circulation JoongAng Daily said in an editorial. "Seoul and Washington should closely cooperate in finding out the North's intention."
In its Thursday statement, North Korea said it would stay away indefinitely from six-nation nuclear talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs until Washington changes its "hostile" policy toward the isolated country.
On Friday, the North's U.N. diplomat told the newspaper Hankyoreh that if Washington agreed to bilateral negotiations, Pyongyang would take that as a signal for a changed U.S. policy.
The White House rebuffed such a suggestion and insisted on six-nation talks, which also include Russia, China, Japan and South Korea — countries growing increasingly frustrated with North Korea's recalcitrance in the 2-year-old standoff.
Shortly after the U.S. rebuttal, the North Korean diplomat, Han Song Ryol, said six-nation talks were over, and the real issue was whether the United States intended to attack.
"Six-party talks is old story. No more," Han said in English during a brief interview with Associated Press Television News.
With the six-nation process stalled, U.S. administration officials were beginning to discuss the possibility of referring the issue to the U.N. Security Council to seek international sanctions against the North.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi came down firmly against that idea Friday, saying economic sanctions against the North could end any possibility that Pyongyang might rejoin talks.