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UNITED NATIONS — A North Korean minister lashed out at the United States on Monday, warning that its "hostile" policy has left the Korean peninsula a spark away from a nuclear war.
Addressing the final session of the U.N. General Assembly's annual high-level meeting, Vice Foreign Minister Pak Kil Yon said the Koreas have become "the world's most dangerous hotspot" and pledged to use the North's "mighty" military deterrent against any "reckless provocations."
"The only way to prevent war and ensure lasting peace on the Korean peninsula is to put an end to the U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK," he said, using the initials of the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The U.S. State Department had no comment on the speech.
Pak addressed the 193-member world body for the first time since the death in December of North Korea's longtime leader Kim Jong Il and the transfer of power to his son, Kim Jong Un. His speech gave some clues about the foreign policy approach of the new leader, whom Pak addressed as "our dear respected marshal."
Pak said Kim is leading efforts to advance his father's economic development program with his own "insight into the world" and is implementing an "independent foreign policy" and opening a new chapter in developing relations with friendly countries "not bound by the past."
Much of his speech focused on North Korea's continuing state of war with the United States more than 60 years after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice but no peace treaty. Pak said Pyongyang's view that from the day the country was founded Washington's intention has been "to destroy the ideas and system chosen by our people and to occupy the whole of the Korean peninsula and to use it as a stepping-stone for realizing its strategy of dominating the whole of Asia."
"Today, due to the continued U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK," Pak said, "the vicious cycle of confrontation and aggravation of tension is an ongoing phenomenon on the Korean peninsula, which has become the world's most dangerous hotspot where a spark of fire could set off a thermonuclear war."
Since 2003, the U.S., Russia, China, Japan and South Korea have been trying to negotiate a disarmament deal with North Korea that would halt its nuclear program. But the North moved ahead, conducting a nuclear test in 2006 that led to U.N. sanctions. The North walked away from the talks in 2009 and later that year exploded its second nuclear device. So far, efforts to re-start the six-party talks have failed.
Pak said the United States has finalized scenarios for a new Korean War and "is waiting for a chance to implement them" and impose military rule after an invasion.
The latest military drill in August involving more than 80,000 troops from the U.S., South Korea and seven countries that fought with them in the Korean War "drove the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of war," Pak said.
In an apparent reference to North Korea's nuclear arsenal and massive military, Pak said his nation's "patience and self-defensive war deterrent," have prevented U.S. military provocations "from turning into an all-out war on the Korean peninsula."
"However, the DPRK's patience does not mean it is unlimited," he warned.
While the government aims to build "a prosperous and powerful state," Pak said, the North was right to build a strong military and "war deterrent" as a "mighty weapon" to respond immediately to provocations and confront any aggression "with a just war of reunifying the country."
Ties between the divided Koreas are at a low point following a failed North Korean rocket launch in April that Washington, Seoul and others have called a cover for a test of long-range missile technology. North Korea says the rocket, which broke apart shortly after liftoff, was meant to launch an observational satellite. Many South Koreans also remain jittery from two 2010 attacks blamed on Pyongyang that killed 50 South Koreans.
Pak lamented that the atmosphere of reconciliation and agreements spawned by historic North-South summit meetings in 2000 and 2007 were negated when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008 and drove relations between the Koreas "to the worst state." Lee will step down after presidential elections in South Korea in December, which Pak didn't mention.
South Korea's Unification Ministry said Tuesday that the North's provocations have made it difficult for relations to improve, denying Pak's claim that Seoul is to blame for the deterioration in ties.
The North Korean minister did say his government "will join hands with anyone who truly wants the reunification of the country and reconciliation" without interference from outside forces.