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N. Korea Misses Nuclear Deadline

North Korea failed to meet a year-end deadline to declare all its nuclear programs under an aid-for-disarmament deal, and urged the United States on New Year's Day to end its "hostile" policy toward the communist regime.

The failure had been widely expected in recent weeks as Pyongyang and Washington have had difficulty bridging differences over the North's suspected uranium enrichment program - a key sticking point that touched off the latest nuclear standoff in late 2002.

It also underscored difficulty dealing with the recalcitrant regime, whose mistrust of the U.S. runs deep.

It was unclear how long the stalemate would last or if it would lead to derailing the entire denuclearization process. But the United States and South Korea have said they believe the overall disarmament process is still on track, though falling behind schedule.

Analysts said the North's failure to meet the deadline appeared to be an attempt to extract concessions from the U.S. and is not likely to lead to a collapse of the aid-for-disarmament deal.

Pyongyang promised in February to abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for energy aid and political concessions. In October, it vowed to disable its nuclear facilities and declare its programs by the end of the year in return for the equivalent of 1 million tons of oil from South Korea, the U.S., China and Russia.

The communist nation had followed through with the agreements, shutting down its sole functioning atomic reactor in July and beginning to disable it and other key facilities at its Yongbyon nuclear complex under watch of U.S. experts in November.

After the deadline passed, the North issued a New Year's message Tuesday calling on Washington to scrap what it calls "hostile" policies toward the regime, although it made no mention of the missed deadline.

"The source of war should be removed and lasting peace be ensured," the North said in the message carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. "An end should be put to the U.S. policy hostile towards (North Korea)."

The North also said the armistice signed at the close of the 1950-53 Korean War should be replaced by a peace treaty. The lack of a formal treaty ending the conflict means the Korean peninsula still remains technically at war.

It also said the North would "make earnest efforts for stability on the Korean peninsula and peace in the world" and that the country is ready to develop "relations of friendship and cooperation with all the countries that are friendly toward it."

The message, published in the form of a joint editorial by three major North Korean newspapers, also called for strengthening the country's military force, but stopped short of calling for boosting nuclear capabilities.

It mentioned "nuclear weapons" only once when it said the "mental power" of the people "is more powerful than nuclear weapons," while urging the impoverished population to unite around leader Kim Jong Il.

The missed deadline drew disappointment Monday from the U.S, Japan and South Korea.

"It is unfortunate but we're going to keep on working on this," said Tom Casey, deputy spokesman for the State Department said. "We're still committed to getting a declaration and we want that declaration to be full and complete."

"The declaration is critical," Casey told reporters. "This can't be a situation where they pretend to give us a full declaration and we pretend to believe them. This has to be full and complete and that's why, I think, this is taking extra time."

Japan called the lack of a declaration "unfortunate" and said it should be released "at the earliest possible date," while South Korea urged the North to move forward "without delay."

The reasons for the delay in declaring the programs appear related to the country's suspected uranium enrichment program and differences with Washington over how much plutonium it has produced.

Analysts said North Korea appeared to feel the U.S. was dragging its feet on a pledge to remove it from a list of terror-sponsoring states.

"Instead of stressing the North's declaration, the U.S. should show some sincerity over the terrorism list," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies.

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University, said the delay shows again North Korea will move forward only when it is given promised aid and other concessions. Still, he said the delay "cannot be seen as a collapse of the agreement."

Diplomats had said for weeks that the North would likely miss the year-end deadline for disablement because a key technical step - removing fuel rods from the reactor - could take months.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Monday the United States actually slowed down part of the disablement process of a key nuclear reactor to make sure it was done in a safe, secure way.

"This is not something that we blame the North Koreans for," Stanzel said.

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