North Korea said Tuesday that the United States should remember the "bitter lesson" of the communist country's seizure of the American spy ship USS Pueblo four decades ago.
The USS Pueblo was seized off North Korea while it was on an intelligence-gathering mission on Jan. 23, 1968. The North says the ship was inside its coastal zone. U.S. Navy records say it was in international waters.
"The U.S. should not forget the bitter lesson drawn from the incident," an unidentified spokesman for the North's Korean National Peace Committee was quoted as saying in a statement carried by the country's official Korean Central News Agency on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the seizure.
"The incident was a product of the U.S. gangster-like policy of aggression" against North Korea, the statement said.
Forty years ago, North Korean torpedo boats attacked the lightly armed USS Pueblo as it was monitoring ship movements and intercepting messages.
One of the U.S. ship's 83 crew members was killed and 10 others were wounded. The crew, led by Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher, were released after 11 months of captivity and sometimes torture.
North Korea displays the USS Pueblo — now docked on the Taedong River in the capital, Pyongyang — as a symbol of resistance. It is the only active-duty U.S. warship in the hands of a foreign power.
Decades of tension between Pyongyang and Washington have so far prevented the return of the ship, which is named after a city in Colorado.
The North said Tuesday that Washington has "continued to conduct aggressive espionage and military provocations ... driving the situation to the brink of war."
The statement called on Washington to end its "hostile policy" toward the North and to replace the armistice agreement that halted the 1950-53 Korean War with a peace treaty.
Washington and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic relations with each other, but they have been increasing contacts amid international efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs.
The North's official media however, regularly accuse the U.S. of planning to attack. Washington denies the charge.