Published February 16, 2008
SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea marked the 66th birthday of leader Kim Jong Il on Saturday, imploring its impoverished people to unite around the strongman amid a deadlock in negotiations over the country's nuclear weapons programs.
The North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper ran a lengthy editorial full of praise for Kim for making the communist nation an "undefeatable strong country" by strengthening its "political and military force."
"We have to unite and unite again around the leadership, upholding the slogan 'Let's safeguard the revolutionary leadership led by Comrade Kim Jong Il with our lives!"' the paper said, according to the North's Korean Central News Agency.
It also vowed to build a stronger military under Kim's "songun" or "military-first" policy, and to rebuild the economy.
Kim's birthday is one of the most celebrated holidays in North Korea, along with the birthday of his late father and national founder Kim Il Sung.
Pyongyang was abuzz with commemorative events such as a massive outdoor dancing party and a music concert, according to the North's state media.
The celebrations came as international negotiations over the North's nuclear programs were at a deadlock, with Washington accusing Pyongyang of refusing
to give a full list of its nuclear programs under a disarmament agreement, which also requires the North to disable its nuclear facilities.
The North's newspaper made no mention of the nuclear standoff. But on the eve of the birthday, the country's No. 2 leader, Kim Yong Nam, blamed the United States for the stalemate.
North Korea claims it gave the U.S. a nuclear programs list in November. Washington says Pyongyang never produced a "complete and correct" list. The disablement work, however, has gone relatively well although it is behind schedule, South Korean and U.S. officials have said.
In Beijing, American experts said after a trip to the North that Pyongyang wants promised energy aid and removal from U.S. terrorism and sanctions blacklists before it will provide a complete declaration of its nuclear programs.
"To them, the most significant hurdle was ... the lack of the delivery of fuel oil and the lack of any motion in removal from the states sponsoring terrorism list and the Trading with the Enemy Act," said Siegfried Hecker, a Stanford University physicist.
"They said until that is done, they will not be able to produce what (U.S. nuclear envoy) Ambassador (Christopher) Hill calls a `complete and correct' declaration," he said of his discussions with North Korean officials.
In Pyongyang, North Korean TV, seen in Seoul, showed, thousands of people in suits and colorful traditional dress performing synchronized folk dances at the capital city's main square to songs lauding the leader.
It also showed military officers holding a commemorative gathering earlier this week at Kim's purported birthplace at Mount Paekdu, the highest peak on the Korean peninsula, with colorful fireworks exploding in the night sky.
KCNA said congratulatory messages and gifts were flooding in from overseas, including from Russian President Vladimir Putin and acting Cuban President Raul Castro. It also said exhibitions of Kimjongilia — a rose-like flower named after the leader — opened across the nation.
Kim Jong Il took over the communist country after Kim Il Sung died of heart failure in 1994, in communism's first hereditary power succession. He has three sons with two different mothers but has not anointed any of them as his successor.