SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea accused the United States yesterday of adopting a “serpent” strategy to strangle the communist country after President Bush warned it would suffer isolation and economic hardship unless it abandons its nuclear ambitions.

Meanwhile, a South Korean presidential envoy returned from Pyongyang and said North Korean negotiators reaffirmed the dispute over their country’s nuclear activity can only be solved through direct dialogue with the United States.

The envoy, Lim Dong-won, returned to Seoul after waiting in vain to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Lim ruled out any quick solution to the nuclear dispute, saying it will be “a very long and gradual process.”

In Washington, Bush said in his State of the Union speech, heard in Asia early yesterday that the United States and other countries would not be “blackmailed” into granting concessions to North Korea by its nuclear weapons development.

North Korea did not respond directly to Bush’s speech. But soon after it was delivered, the North’s official news agency, KCNA, released a commentary saying Washington was using the nuclear dispute as a pretext to destroy the communist country.

“This strategy is also dubbed a ‘serpent’ strategy, as it is to be carried out in the way a serpent does, i.e., swallowing up the object after strangling it,” KCNA said.

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