U.S. Calls on North Korea to Halt Nuclear Weapons Program Within Days After Deadline Missed

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The U.S. said Sunday that North Korea must act within days on a pledge to halt its nuclear weapons program, while the communist regime marked the birthday of its late founder with pomp and tough rhetoric.

North Korea failed to meet a Saturday deadline to shut down and seal its bomb-making nuclear reactor under a February disarmament agreement. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said Washington was prepared "to hold on for a few more days" after his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei, asked the U.S. for patience.

"We're not happy that the (North) essentially has missed this very important deadline," Hill told reporters after talks with Wu in Beijing. "We're obviously going to be watching the situation very closely in the coming days."

The United States sent a message to North Korea through its embassy in China urging it to fulfill commitments in the February agreement, which would give the North energy aid and political concessions for disarming.

The North said last week it will only move when it receives money from accounts frozen in 2005 after the U.S. blacklisted a Macau bank to pressure the regime, its main precondition for agreeing to disarm. The $25 million was freed for withdrawal last week, but it remains unclear when the North will receive the money.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who traveled to North Korea last week as part of a delegation to recover the remains of missing U.S. troops from the Korean War, said he believes the North will start the process of shutting down the reactor early this week.

"I believe they've made a strategic decision," Richardson said on ABC's "This Week" news program. "I've been there six times. I know them. They're very difficult. But I do believe that they've made that decision to move forward."

Hill said he expected negotiators from the countries involved in the arms talks — China, Japan, Russia, the U.S. and the two Koreas — would likely meet again before the end of the month to discuss the next steps in disarming North Korea.

The North has yet to agree to a deadline for dismantling its nuclear program after the reactor shutdown, which could be easily reversed.

No official comment has come from the North since the deadline, with the country consumed Sunday in celebrations of one of its main holidays: the birthday of late founder Kim Il Sung, known as the "Day of the Sun."

Kim, father of current leader Kim Jong Il, remains the main focus of an immense personality cult and still retains the title as the country's president, 13 years after his death in 1994.

On the eve of the holiday Saturday, the North staged a spectacle with thousands of performers in the capital Pyongyang known as the "mass games" — featuring synchronized gymnastics and giant murals formed in the grandstands of an entire side of a stadium by children flipping large books with colored pages.

The performance was the first since 2005, after last year's event was canceled because of massive floods that devastated the country.

Kim Jong Il did not attend the show, AP Television News reported, which also apparently did not include any direct mention of the country's newly acquired status as a nuclear power since its first-ever atomic weapons test in October.

In a lengthy editorial, the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper wrote: "There is no imperialistic enemy that can dare to provoke our country."

"Our dear Comrade Kim Jong Il is the destiny and future of our country and our people," the editorial said. "We should all become invincible warriors that dedicate our body and mind to the general, whenever, wherever."

North Korean TV footage Sunday monitored in Seoul showed neatly dressed people lined up in front of a 75-foot statue of the elder Kim to pay homage. Officials also visited the palace where the late Kim's embalmed body is enshrined to pay respect "in the most pious manner," the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported.