By Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.S. policy toward North Korea has made the Korean peninsula the most dangerous place on the planet because a "spark" there could ignite a nuclear war, a senior North Korean official told the U.N. General Assembly on Monday.
One of the last speakers at the 193-nation assembly's annual gathering in New York, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Pak Kil-yon was also full of praise for Kim Jong-un, the reclusive communist country's young new leader.
"Today, due to the continued U.S. hostile policy towards DPRK, the vicious cycle of confrontation and aggravation of tensions is an ongoing phenomenon on the Korean peninsula, which has become the world's most dangerous hot spot where a spark of fire could set off a thermonuclear war," Pak said.
DPRK refers to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the country's official name.
Speaking of North Korea's nuclear "deterrent," Pak said that it was a "mighty weapon that defends the country's sovereignty."
North Korea is under U.N. Security Council sanctions due to its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests. Earlier this year, Western powers had expressed concern that North Korea would carry out another atomic test but that detonation never took place.
North Korea has long argued that in the face of a hostile United States, which has military bases in South Korea and Japan, it needs a nuclear arsenal to defend itself.
Six-party aid-for-disarmament talks involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China have been stalled since 2008.
Pak said that the North Korean people were united behind their new leader, who came to power after Kim's father Kim Jong-il died last December.
"Our dear respected marshal, Kim Jong-un, is firmly determined to make our people, who have overcome manifold hardships, enjoy a happy life to their heart's content in a prosperous, socialist state," he said.
"Our people are following dear respected marshal Kim Jong-un with absolute trust in him and are vigorously advancing to the final victory with full conviction and optimism about the future, single-heartedly united behind him," Pak said.
United Nations estimates show that a third of North Korea's population is malnourished, and the economy still has yet to regain output levels seen in the 1990s, when a devastating famine and the withdrawal of Soviet aid hit the country hard.
A formal peace treaty to end the 1950-53 Korean War between the North and South, rather than the armistice in place, has been a longstanding demand from North Korea, which wants diplomatic recognition from the United States.
The United States and its ally South Korea, which is host to more than 28,000 U.S. troops, insist that North Korea give up its nuclear ambitions before considering a peace treaty and large-scale economic aid.
North Korea withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, the first country to do so. For North Korea, analysts say its ability to threaten nuclear war has long been its only real diplomatic leverage with the outside world, especially the United States.
(Editing by Will Dunham)