North Korea called Vice President Dick Cheney (search) a "bloodthirsty beast" and said Thursday his recent remarks labeling ruler Kim Jong Il (search) irresponsible are another reason for it to stay away from six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.

"What Cheney uttered at a time when the issue of the six-party talks is high on the agenda is little short of telling (North Korea) not to come out for the talks," an unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Nearly a year since the last session of the six-nation talks, North Korea has refused to return to the table, citing a "hostile" U.S. policy. More recently, it has also called for an apology for being labeled one of the world's "outposts of tyranny" by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In a televised interview Sunday, Cheney called the North Korean leader "one of the world's most irresponsible leaders" who runs a police state and leaves his people in poverty and malnutrition.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan described the communist country's comments as "more of the same kind of bluster we hear from North Korea from time to time. When they make provocative statements, they only further isolate themselves."

President Bush himself has sounded a more conciliatory tone recently, referring to Kim this week at a news conference using the title "Mr."

Rice also has said the U.S. recognizes the North as a sovereign nation, and U.S. officials insist they have no intention to attack the communist state.

But North Korea said Thursday that the remarks by Cheney, "boss of the hawkish hard-liners, revealed the true colors of this group steering the implementation of the policy of the Bush administration."

The North also leveled a bitter personal attack on Cheney, saying he was "hated as the most cruel monster and bloodthirsty beast as he has drenched various parts of the world in blood."

Despite the tough talk, the North said it maintains its commitment to ending the nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula and seeking a peaceful solution to the current standoff.

"But if the U.S. persists in its wrong behavior, misjudging our magnanimity and patience as a sign of weakness, this will entail more serious consequences," the spokesman said, without any elaboration.

Earlier this week, Pyongyang's state media also lashed out at Rice in harsh personal terms, implying she was in control of the White House.

Meanwhile, the North also Thursday criticized a Defense Department decision to halt missions to recover remains of thousands of U.S. soldiers from the Korean War and said it would disband its own search unit.

"In consequence, the U.S. remains buried in Korea can never be recovered but are bound to be reduced to earth with the flow of time," a North Korean army spokesman said, according to KCNA.

Washington said it was halting the missions, which began in 1996, out of concerns for U.S. troops' safety. Pyongyang denied they had ever been at risk and said the Americans had been able to remove remains "without having even a single fingernail hurt."

Also Thursday, the North demanded the U.S. withdraw 15 F-117A Nighthawk (search) stealth fighters recently deployed to South Korea on a regular annual training exercise.

The latest nuclear standoff with North Korea was sparked in late 2002 when U.S. officials accused Pyongyang of running a secret uranium enrichment program in violation of a 1994 agreement. The North later pulled out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (search) and restarted its main reactor — which it shut down this year and said it had removed the fuel rods, a step that would enable it to harvest more weapons-grade plutonium.

The last round of six-nation talks — including China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas — met in June. Three rounds of the negotiations in Beijing have failed to lead to any breakthroughs.