SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean state media praised the country's leader Sunday for standing up to its enemies a day after the army's chief of staff vowed to take action against U.S. sanctions after nuclear disarmament talks ended in deadlock.
In a lengthy editorial, Rodong Sinmun newspaper lauded North Korean leader Kim Jong Il for his "iron-like pluck and grit" and for trying to build a powerful military that no enemy would dare confront, the North's Korean Central News Agency said.
The newspaper also said the North displayed its determination to "mercilessly punish aggressors trying to pick a fight with us" — a possible reference to its Oct. 9 nuclear test that sent jitters across the globe.
On Saturday, army chief of staff Kim Yong Chun accused the United States of demanding that North Korea unilaterally end its nuclear program while refusing to lift financial restrictions the U.S. imposed on the communist government for its alleged money laundering and counterfeiting of US$100 bills.
The nuclear talks — held in Beijing this week after a 13-month break due to a North Korean boycott over the U.S. sanctions — ended Friday without an agreement to move ahead on the North's nuclear disarmament. Last year, the North pledged to disarm in exchange for security guarantees and aid.
Negotiators said the North Koreans refused to talk about their nuclear weapons program until the U.S. lifts its financial restrictions.
"Sanctions and pressure will never work on (North Korea). If the hostile forces continue escalating sanctions and pressure against (the North), it will resolutely react to them with stronger countermeasures," Kim said in a speech to thousands of top government and military officials in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital.
Kim did not elaborate on what he meant by stronger countermeasures in the speech, broadcast on North Korean Central TV.
The meeting was held on the eve of the 15th anniversary of Kim Jong Il's assumption of the command of the country's 1.1 million-strong military, the world's fifth largest.
North Korean soldiers also held a massive outdoor party on Saturday night to celebrate the anniversary. The North's television, seen in Seoul, showed a number of soldiers in fur hats dancing in circles at Pyongyang's "All Victory Plaza," as a brass band played songs praising Kim.
North Korean nuclear envoy Kim Kye Gwan said Friday that his country — which conducted its first nuclear weapons test in October — would bolster its atomic arsenal in response to U.S. pressure.
The North ended its boycott of the disarmament talks after the U.S. agreed to discuss its campaign to penalize North Korea for its alleged financial crimes.
The two sides held separate talks on those sanctions in Beijing on the sidelines of the six-nation arms talks but failed to bridge their differences.
The U.S. and the North are considering holding the next financial talks in the week starting Jan. 22 in New York, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported, citing unidentified "diplomatic sources."
Yonhap also said the six-party nuclear talks are not likely to resume before late January because some negotiators are tied up with other diplomatic schedules.
Delegates at the talks — which involve China, the U.S. the two Koreas, Russia and Japan — agreed to meet again "at the earliest opportunity," but did not set a date.
The main U.S. envoy, Christopher Hill, said the talks would reconvene in "weeks, not months."