updated 12/23/2003 11:09:34 AM ET 2003-12-23T16:09:34

North Korea marked Kim Jong Il’s anniversary as top military commander by vowing Tuesday to increase its readiness to fight a war with the United States over its nuclear weapons program.

Kim became supreme commander of the 1.1 million-strong Korean People’s Army, the world’s fifth largest, 12 years ago Wednesday. On the eve of the anniversary, military officers and communist party cadets gathered in Pyongyang and celebrated with anti-American bravado.

“If the U.S. imperialists ignite a war at any cost despite our repeated warnings, the army and people of the DPRK will mobilize ... and destroy the enemy’s bulwark by merciless crushing blows,” said Kim Yong Chun, chief of the KPA General Staff, during a national meeting.

The DPRK is the acronym of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

Kim Yong Chun said the “situation of the Korean revolution still remains complicated and tense,” and urged the country to “increase the war deterrent force in every way,” according to the North’s official news agency, KCNA.

North Korea uses major anniversaries to boost loyalty from the military and its hunger-stricken people, especially during foreign crises.

U.S., allies press for nuclear abandonment
The United States and its regional allies are pressing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program in return for economic aid and better ties.

The United States, the two Koreas, Japan, China and Russia met in Beijing in August to discuss ending the nuclear crisis, but the meeting ended without much progress. Washington hopes to convene a new round of six-nation talks early next year, after sorting out differences with North Korea.

North Korea demands that the United States give it security assurances in return for dismantling its nuclear program, while Washington wants North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons first.

North Korea tells its people that leader Kim uses the nuclear confrontation to extract American concessions, North Korean defectors say.

On Tuesday, North Korea called Kim a military genius with “rare insight and judgment ... and a brilliant commander capable of defeating any formidable enemy with his strong faith and will, matchless grit and strategy.”

“It is a great miracle in history which can be wrought only by him that socialist Korea has emerged a world military power in the international arena,” KCNA said.

North Korea enforces a cult of personality that Kim inherited from his father, late President Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994.

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