In repeating its pledge to rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons the North hinted at further disarmament talks if it has improved ties with the new US administration.

"North Korea didn't issue insults for the US in this year's editorial," said Paik Hak-soon, an analyst at the security think-tank Sejong Institute in South Korea.

"That showed North Korea's expectation for the Obama government."

Later on Thursday Kim Ho-nyeon, a spokesman at the South Korean Unification Ministry, said the US was also not criticised in the New Year's messages of 1993 and 2001, shortly before Bill Clinton and George Bush were inaugurated respectively.

In other New Year's messages however the North accused the US of plotting a war against it and demanded that Washington withdraw its 28,000 troops from South Korea.

Nuclear stalemate

Last week six-nation nuclear talks ended in a stalemate following North Korea's refusal to put into writing commitments on inspecting its past nuclear activities.

Pyongyang released undated pictures of Kim to refute reports he was seriously ill [AFP]

The US called for a halt in heavy fuel oil aid to punish North Korea for its stance which blocked progress on an aid-for-disarmament agreement reached last year.

North Korea has often pledged to get rid of its nuclear programme but has dragged its heels in disarmament talks for about 15 years despite being offered political concessions and economic aid.

In the New Year message the North accused South Korea of an "anachronistic confrontation policy'' and stressed the need to strengthen the country's 1.2 million-member military.

Ties worsened last month as North Korea restricted traffic at the border, expelled some South Koreans from a joint industrial zone and suspended a tour programme to the ancient North Korean city of Kaesong.

There was also no comment on Kim's suspected stroke in August or a hint of a succession plan in Asia's only communist dynasty.

Kim has been the focus of intense speculation since he reportedly suffered a stroke and underwent brain surgery in August.

Pyongyang denies that its 66-year-old leader was ever ill, churning out a slew of reports and photos depicting him as healthy and active.