North Korea's (search) No. 2 leader said Thursday the communist nation will increase its nuclear deterrent to defend against the alleged threat of a U.S. invasion, and ordered citizens to defend the regime "at the cost of their lives."
The United States has repeatedly said it has no intention to invade despite an ongoing standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. The secretive nation claimed in February to possess atomic weapons and said it would boycott international disarmament talks. Last month, it said it had bolstered its nuclear arsenal.
"We will continue increasing our self-defensive nuclear deterrent against the enemies' policy to isolate and stifle the republic," Kim Yong Nam (search), head of the North's legislature, said at a meeting honoring the birthday of founding President Kim Il Sung (search).
"If the U.S. imperialists recklessly set the fire of war on the Korean Peninsula despite our repeated warnings ... we will mercilessly and completely destroy the invaders so they won't live again," Kim was quoted as saying by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
Pyongyang has demanded that Washington apologize for remarks by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) describing North Korea as one of the world's "outposts of tyranny."
In an interview published Thursday in The Wall Street Journal, Rice said North Korea's recent declaration that it had nuclear weapons was a bid for attention.
"I do think the North Koreans have been, frankly, a little bit disappointed that people are not jumping up and down and running around with their hair on fire because (they) have been making these pronouncements," she said.
Kim Il Sung's birthday is the biggest national holiday in North Korea, known as the "Day of the Sun." He remains the country's "eternal president" in its constitution, even after dying at age 82 on July 8, 1994, following more than a half-century in power.
In his speech Thursday, Kim Yong Nam ordered all citizens to defend the country's current leader, Kim Il Sung's son, Kim Jong Il (search), "at the cost of their lives" and continue working to strengthen the military, KCNA said.
Since June, North Korea has stayed away from international talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons ambitions, citing what it calls hostile U.S. policy.
Also Thursday, the North accused Washington of trying to seek economic sanctions against it through the U.N. Security Council.
The United States intends to "have U.N. forces-helmeted multinational troops inveigled automatically into a Korean war," the North's Communist Party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said in a commentary carried by KCNA. "It should never forget that (North Korea) is a mighty possessor of nuclear weapons."
During an Asian tour in March, Rice said Washington may have to look at "other options" in case the nuclear talks failed. She didn't spell out the options, but analysts have said they could include seeking tough economic sanctions on the North through the U.N. Security Council.
On Wednesday, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun (search) said the North and Washington would work out their differences "after long dialogue."
He also said the two Koreas would only reunite "in a very stable process after predictable stages."
"The possibility of North Korea's collapse is very low," Roh said. "And the (South Korean) government has no intention to encourage it."