North Korea took its first swipe at President Barack Obama on Wednesday, accusing his administration of meddling, though the communist country somewhat toned down its recent harsh, military rhetoric.
North Korea has been highly critical of the United States in recent weeks, accusing it of using annual military exercises with South Korea to prepare for an invasion, a claim Washington denies.
Also stoking tensions has been the North's intention to fire a rocket, which it says will be a satellite but that South Korea and other governments believe will be a test of a long-range missile capable of striking U.S. territory.
"The new administration of the U.S. is now working hard to infringe upon the sovereignty" of North Korea "by force of arms," the North's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that also accused Obama's government of "seriously interfering in its internal affairs" in both "words and deeds."
Wednesday's statement was significant in that it was the Foreign Ministry's first on the U.S. since Obama's inauguration, an analyst said.
"The Foreign Ministry is Washington's direct negotiating partner and has not engaged in criticizing the U.S. so far," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University. "This means they have started expressing pent-up complaints."
However, the ministry's less strident tone reflects Pyongyang's willingness for negotiation, Kim said.
The statement did not elaborate on the alleged meddling, but Pyongyang has rejected demands from the U.S. and neighboring governments that it drop the rocket launch plan, claiming it has the right to shoot off a satellite.
The North claims what it is trying to launch is a satellite as part of its peaceful space program and has vowed to retaliate against any one seeking to shoot it down.
The North's satellite launch is part of its plan to achieve an economic revival by 2012, the Tokyo-based Choson Sinbo newspaper, considered a mouthpiece for the communist regime in Pyongyang, reported Wednesday.
North Korea has vowed to become a "prosperous and powerful" nation by 2012 _ the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth, the country's founder and late father of current leader Kim Jong Il.
The North may also have been referring to comments by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last month over a potential power struggle to replace Kim, who is believed to have suffered a stroke last year.
The ministry statement also called the annual military drills in South Korea "war exercises designed to mount a pre-emptive attack" on the North. It said the country "will take every necessary measure to protect its sovereignty." It did not specify what the measures would be.
But that wording was far less harsh than statements from the country's military during the run-up to joint U.S.-South Korean war games that started Monday.
The military has threatened South Korean passenger planes and put its troops on standby.
On Monday, the North, citing the drills, cut off a military hot line with the South, causing a complete shutdown of their border and stranding hundreds of South Koreans working in a joint industrial zone in the North. Pyongyang reopened the border Tuesday, but the hot line remains suspended.
North Korea has long claimed that the joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises are rehearsals for an invasion. Seoul and Washington say the yearly drills are purely defensive.
The 12-day maneuvers, involving 26,000 U.S. troops and an unspecified number of South Korean soldiers, include live-fire drills. The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis arrived Wednesday at a naval base in the southern port city of Busan for the exercises.
In Washington, U.S. national intelligence director Dennis Blair said he believes the North is planning a space launch, but said the technology is no different from that of a long-range missile and its success would mean the communist nation is capable of striking the mainland U.S.
"I tend to believe that the North Koreans announced that they would do a space launch and that's what they intend," Blair said before a senate panel Tuesday.
Associated Press Writer Jae-soon Chang in Seoul and AP photographer Young-joon Ahn in Busan, South Korea contributed to this report.