North Korea's No. 2 leader vowed Friday to strengthen the country's "military deterrent force" in response to an American policy it considers hostile, the nation's official news agency said.
North Korea usually refers to its purported nuclear weapons as "deterrent force." North Korean officials often use harsh rhetoric to strengthen their position in international nuclear negotiations.
"The present situation of the Korean Peninsula has been driven to extremes by the U.S. vicious hostile policy" toward North Korea, said Kim Yong Nam, the North's ceremonial head of state, considered second in line to leader Kim Jong Il.
"It is (North Korea's) right for self-defense to strengthen its military deterrent ... to cope with the grave situation," he told a national meeting marking the birthday of late national founder Kim Il Sung, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
The comments came after an informal gathering in Tokyo this week of six countries involved in talks to get North Korea to give up its nuclear program. The gathering failed to produce a breakthrough in the stalled negotiations.
The communist state is angry because it had hoped to win a concession from the U.S. this week, but the main U.S. negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, wouldn't meet with his North Korean counterpart, saying any meeting should take place at the six-party talks.
Before leaving Tokyo on Thursday, the North's nuclear envoy, Kim Kye Gwan, made a similar threat, saying the country would use a delay in the nuclear talks to bolster its military "deterrent force."
"It's not bad that the resumption of nuclear talks is delayed. During that period, we will make more deterrent force," he told a news conference.
North Korea has said it has atomic weapons, although the claim has not been verified independently.
Pyongyang says it won't return to the negotiating table unless the U.S. lifts financial restrictions imposed for the North's alleged currency counterfeiting and other wrongdoing. Washington says the sanctions are a law enforcement matter unrelated to the nuclear talks and will stay in place.
North Korea claims the sanctions are a product of what it calls Washington's "hostile policy" aimed at overthrowing the communist regime.
"The U.S. is running reckless to bring down the DPRK at any cost, by all means and methods including military attack, economic blockade and undermining from within," Kim Kye Gwan told the meeting, using the acronym for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"If the U.S. stupidly takes the road of a war against" the North, Kim Kye Gwan said the country's "army and people will mercilessly wipe out the aggressors."
North Korea agreed in September to give up its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security assurances. But negotiations to implement that agreement didn't move forward as Pyongyang disputed the U.S. financial restrictions.
The talks, which involves China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the U.S., were last held in November.