PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea warned the world Friday there would be no softening of its position toward South Korea's government after Kim Jong Il's death as Pyongyang strengthened his son and heir's authority with a new title: Great Leader.
North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission said that the country would never deal with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, a conservative who stopped a no-strings-attached aid policy toward the North in 2008.
The stern message also said North Korea was uniting around Kim Jong Un, referring to him for the first time with the title Great Leader — previously used for his father — in a clear message of continuity. It was the latest incremental step in a burgeoning personality cult around the son following the Dec. 17 death of Kim Jong Il.
The younger Kim on Thursday was pronounced Supreme Leader of the state, the ruling party and the military at a massive public gathering on the final day of official mourning for his father.
The top levels of government appear to have rallied around Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20s, in the wake of his father's death. Still, given his inexperience and age, there are questions outside North Korea about whether he is equipped to lead a nation engaged in delicate negotiations over its nuclear program and grappling with decades of economic hardship and chronic food shortages.
"We declare solemnly and confidently that the foolish politicians around the world, including the puppet group in South Korea, should not expect any change from us," the National Defense Commission said. "We will never deal with the traitor group of Lee Myung-bak."
In a bellicose voice, a female news anchor for state TV read the National Defense Commission statement, saying the "evil misdeeds" of the Lee administration reached a peak when it prevented South Koreans from visiting North Korea to pay respects to Kim Jong Il, except for two delegations led by a former first lady and a business leader, both of whose husbands had ties to North Korea.
North Korea had said foreign official delegations would not be allowed at the funeral but would welcome any South Koreans who would wanted to travel to pay respects to Kim.
The North's statement is a warning for Seoul not to take the new leadership lightly, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University.
"It is also raising the stakes in case the South wants better relations so Pyongyang can extract greater concessions" during any later talks, Koh said. He added that it's "too early to say the North is dashing hopes for reforms."
While blasting the South's leader, the North also offered a bit of hope for improved ties with the South, saying it "will continue to push hard toward the path of improved relations."
But it added that any better ties won't be "based on the deceitful ploys South Korea is employing by mixing 'toughness' and 'flexibility.'" Seoul has signaled a change in its approach toward Pyongyang in recent months, saying it will be more flexible in dealing with the North.
On Thursday, a somber Kim Jong Un, who has also been dubbed the Great Successor, stood with his head bowed at the Grand People's Study House, overlooking Kim Il Sung Square, named for his grandfather, who founded modern North Korea. A sea of mourners gathered below.
"Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un is our party, military and country's Supreme Leader who inherits great comrade Kim Jong Il's ideology, leadership, character, virtues, grit and courage," Kim Yong Nam, considered North Korea's ceremonial head of state, said in a speech.
Kim Jong Un was flanked by top party and military officials, including Kim Jong Il's younger sister, Kim Kyong Hui, and her husband, Jang Song Thaek, who are expected to serve as mentors of their young nephew.
"The father's plan is being implemented," Ralph Cossa, president of Pacific Forum CSIS, a Hawaii-based think tank, said of the transfer of power. "All of these guys have a vested interest in the system and a vested interest in demonstrating stability. The last thing they want to do is create havoc."
Still, given Kim Jong Un's inexperience and age, there are questions outside North Korea about whether he is equipped to lead a nation engaged in long-stalled negotiations over its nuclear program and grappling with decades of economic hardship and chronic food shortages.
But support among North Korea's power brokers was clear at the memorial service, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of people filling Kim Il Sung Square and other plazas in central Pyongyang.
Associated Press writers Foster Klug, Scott McDonald and Sam Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report. Follow AP's North Korea coverage at twitter.com/newsjean, twitter.com/APklug and twitter.com/samkim_ap.