N. Korea greets New Year with no explanations about missing year-end nuclear disarmament deadline

By Shim Sun-ah
SEOUL, Jan. 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korea greeted New Year's Day with a vow to strengthen its military and economy but without any mention of its failure to meet a year-end nuclear disarmament deadline set under an international accord.

In a message that marked the New Year, the hard-line communist country also renewed its long-standing demand for an end to the U.S. military presence in South Korea while holding out hope for improved ties with Seoul which will soon have a new president with a tough stance on it.

"We should constantly increase the military strength of our Republic by holding fast to the Party's Songun-based revolutionary line," said the statement issued in the form of a joint editorial by the country's three major newspapers published by the party, military and youth guard militia.

Songun, or the military-first policy, is the North's ruling philosophy that has been in place since leader Kim Jong-il took over power after his father and president, Kim Il-sung, died in 1994.

"Strong defense capabilities are symbolic of the independent dignity of Songun Korea and a basic guarantee for its prosperity," said the statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency. "Our Party is consistent in its revolutionary stand to hold the idea of giving prominence to the military affairs as the basic strategy in building a great, prosperous and powerful nation."

The North's 1.1-million-member military, the world's fifth largest, is the backbone of the communist regime.

The lengthy statement contained no surprises. Prominently missing was any mention of the North's failure to meet a Dec. 31 deadline for it to complete its promised disablement of its core nuclear facilities and give a full accounting of its nuclear programs.

Under an October deal with South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, North Korea is supposed to have disabled its key nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and disclosed a full list of its nuclear programs by Dec. 31 in return for the equivalent of 1 million tons of fuel oil.

While the delay in the North's nuclear disablement work had been widely expected because of technical problems, its failure to meet the Monday deadline has caused concern among its negotiating partners.

South Korea, the United States and Japan expressed disappointment but said negotiations will continue to disarm the communist state.

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Korea Times  (Posted 1/1/08)