- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2003

PYONGYANG, North Korea, Feb. 16 (UPI) — North Korea celebrated the 61st birthday of President Kim Jong il with nationwide celebrations and a threat to "annihilate" the United States if it is attacked, state media said Sunday.

"The birthday of leader Kim Jong-il, was significantly celebrated in Korea and in different countries of the world as a common holiday of humankind," said the official Korea Central News Agency.

The government organized several gatherings for the reclusive leader of the world's only Stalinist state. KCNA said there were art performances, celebration meetings, evening galas, public presentations, oratorical meetings and other functions.

"An evening gala was sponsored by the ministry of the people's armed forces at Jonsung Square on Saturday evening in celebration of the birthday of leader Kim Jong-il," it said.

"People from all walks of life and servicemen visited the native home at the secret camp in Mt. Paektu, a holy land of revolution, and revolutionary sites across the country and made their pledges of loyalty, wishing Kim Jong-il good health and safety," it added.

North Korea is regarded as the world's most isolated nation and is in a stand off with the United States over its nuclear activities.

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency declared North Korea in "non-compliance with its obligations" under the Safeguards Agreement of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and referred the matter to the U.N. Security Council for possible action. Pyongyang has said the issue is a bilateral one with Washington, adding it would regard U.N. sanctions as "war."

The crisis with North Korea began last October when the United States announced it had presented Pyongyang with evidence it was pursuing a program to enrich uranium, a critical first step to developing nuclear weapons. As a result, the Bush administration cut off the heavy-fuel shipments it had agreed in 1994 to supply Pyongyang until the international community finished building North Korea two light-water reactors.

In return for the shipments and reactors, North Korea agreed to shut down another nuclear program, one that could lead to plutonium-based nuclear weapons.

In December, North Korea removed monitoring devices for that mothballed program and asked IAEA inspectors to leave the country. Satellite imagery and other evidence indicates North Korea has since restarted its plutonium program — specifically, a reactor at the Yongbyon research site that Pyongyang says is for electricity to replace the fuel oil shipments.

But that reactor is less than one-tenth the size that nuclear experts say can generate a practical amount of electricity.

Washington is working with its allies in Asia - South Korea, Japan and China - along with Russia to end the dispute. Moscow is believed to hold considerable influence over Pyongyang.

KCNA said Kim Sunday received a congratulatory message from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"It is my hope that the gifts I present to you with my sincerity will help remind you of our meeting and friendship and true feelings of respect", it quoted Putin as saying.

Over the past few weeks, the North Korean media have carried reports warning of dire consequences if it is attacked. A member of its foreign ministry told Britain's Guardian newspaper earlier this month North Korea reserved the right to state a pre-emptive strike against the United States.

On Sunday, Nodong Shinmun, the mouthpiece of the Workers' Party, warned against attack by Washington.

"Today, the U.S. imperialists are leading the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war, using the nuclear issue to serve its ambition to squeeze our republic to death," it said in an editorial on Kim's 61st birthday. "All servicemen of the People's Army should always be on the alert … US enemies will be annihilated to the last one" if they attack North Korea.

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