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N. Korea condemns 'hostile' U.S. policy

Response comes a day after canceling talks with S. Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea strongly denounced the Bush administration Wednesday, saying it has adopted a hostile policy aimed at "stifling" the communist country.

It was the North's first direct criticism after President Bush met last week with South Korea's president and lay down a hard-line stance toward the North, ruling out an immediate resumption of Clinton-era negotiations with the regime.

Pyongyang's angry reply Wednesday came a day after it abruptly called off Cabinet-level talks with South Korea, striking a blow to reconciliation efforts. Some in the South said the Bush administration's stance may have sparked the move.

Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper for the North's ruling Workers' Party, said Washington was "escalating its provocative and reckless" rhetoric against the North.

It also objected to U.S concerns about human rights and allegations that the North sponsors terrorism.

Raising such issues is a clear indication that the United States "only intends to step up its hostile policy to isolate and stifle the DPRK (North Korea)," said the paper's commentary, carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency

"If the U.S. imperialists dare turn to confrontation with the DPRK, the army and people of the DPRK will take thousand-fold revenge on them," the commentary said, using the abbreviation for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

At the White House talks last week, Bush met with South Korea's President Kim Dae-jung. Afterward, Bush expressed skepticism at North Korea's intentions and said any deal in which the North agrees to limit its missiles must include verifiable terms that would prevent cheating.

A South Korean Cabinet member who returned to Seoul late Wednesday after a four-day trip to the North said his North Korean counterpart did not say why Tuesday's talks were canceled. Culture and Tourism Minister Kim Han-gil's trip overlapped with Kim Dae-jung's meeting with Bush.

In recent weeks, North Korea has angrily threatened to pull out of missile and nuclear accords with the United States, partly to protest what it views as a hard-line approach in Washington.

The Korean peninsula was divided into the communist North and pro-Western South in 1945. The 1950-53 Korean War ended without a peace treaty, and their border remains sealed and heavily fortified. The United States keeps 37,000 troops in the South under a defense treaty.