Cheney Called 'Bloodthirsty Beast'

North Korea called Vice President Dick Cheney a "bloodthirsty beast" and said Thursday his recent remarks labeling ruler Kim Jong Il irresponsible are another reason for it to stay away from six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.

"What Cheney uttered at a time when the issue of the six-party talks is high on the agenda is little short of telling (North Korea) not to come out for the talks," an unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Nearly a year since the last session of the six-nation talks, North Korea has refused to return to the table, citing a "hostile" U.S. policy. More recently, it has also called for an apology for being labeled one of the world's "outposts of tyranny" by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will have a chance this weekend to consult with Asian allies about containing North Korea's nuclear threat and to outline U.S. military policy for the region at a conference with many of the area's top leaders.

Rumsfeld left Thursday for Singapore, where he will attend an annual Asian security conference sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. His schedule includes one-on-one meetings with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea, and a keynote speech Saturday where he is expected to discuss issues such as shipping security, fighting terrorists and his plans to restructure U.S. troop presence in the region.

North Korea is sure to be a main topic at the conference. The U.S. is trying to restart six-way talks with North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programs.

In a Sunday interview on CNN, Cheney called the North Korean leader "one of the world's most irresponsible leaders" who runs a police state and leaves his people in poverty and malnutrition.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan described the communist country's comments as "more of the same kind of bluster we hear from North Korea from time to time. When they make provocative statements, they only further isolate themselves."

President Bush himself has sounded a more conciliatory tone recently, referring to Kim this week at a news conference using the title "Mr."

At a news conference Tuesday, Mr. Bush defended his diplomatic approach to North Korea, rejecting criticism that it has allowed North Korea's government to expand its nuclear program. Mr. Bush said trying to persuade Pyongyang to abandon the program through six-nation talks was the most likely route to success.

Rice also has said the U.S. recognizes the North as a sovereign nation, and U.S. officials insist they have no intention to attack the communist state.

But North Korea said Thursday that the remarks by Cheney, "boss of the hawkish hard-liners, revealed the true colors of this group steering the implementation of the policy of the Bush administration."

The North also leveled a bitter personal attack on Cheney, saying he was "hated as the most cruel monster and bloodthirsty beast as he has drenched various parts of the world in blood."

Despite the tough talk, the North said it maintains its commitment to ending the nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula and seeking a peaceful solution to the current standoff.

"But if the U.S. persists in its wrong behavior, misjudging our magnanimity and patience as a sign of weakness, this will entail more serious consequences," the spokesman said, without any elaboration.

Earlier this week, Pyongyang's state media also lashed out at Rice in harsh personal terms, implying she was in control of the White House.

Meanwhile, the North also Thursday criticized a Defense Department decision to halt missions to recover remains of thousands of U.S. soldiers from the Korean War and said it would disband its own search unit.

"In consequence, the U.S. remains buried in Korea can never be recovered but are bound to be reduced to earth with the flow of time," a North Korean army spokesman said, according to KCNA.

Washington said it was halting the missions, which began in 1996, out of concerns for U.S. troops' safety. Pyongyang denied they had ever been at risk and said the Americans had been able to remove remains "without having even a single fingernail hurt."

Also Thursday, the North demanded the U.S. withdraw 15 F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighters recently deployed to South Korea on a regular annual training exercise.

The reclusive communist country's government has said it has nuclear weapons, and U.S. officials say Pyongyang may have as many as six atomic bombs. U.S. officials recently have warned the North against testing a nuclear weapon, saying it could lead to an arms race in Asia.

Next week, Rumsfeld travels to Norway to meet with Defense Minister Kristin Krohn Devold. The two will visit a NATO center and then travel to a meeting of NATO ministers.