PostHeaderIcon NKorea 'vulgar' to choose missiles over food: US - Lead

"What is vulgar is that the North Korean government chooses to harvest missiles rather than enough food for its people," declared State Department Philip Crowley in defense of the US diplomatic chief.

"And what is unintelligent is the path that the North Korean government has chosen. It's a dead-end which dooms the North Korean people to a dismal future."

Clinton earlier said that Pyongyang had "no friends left" to defend it from nuclear sanctions, which triggered a testy response from the Stalinist regime.

Regime officials described Clinton's renewed offer of a package of incentives in return for disarmament as "nonsense," and slammed the secretary of state as unintelligent and a "funny lady."

"Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping," a foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying in attacking her "vulgar" remarks.

Clinton was speaking at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum (ARF) in Phuket, where she was plugging international moves on denuclearization efforts.

Asked about Pyongyang's unflattering remarks, the former top US negotiator on North Korea's nuclear program linked them to the country's "succession problem" in the wake of leader Kim Jong-Il's ill health.

"I know the North Koreans are second to none when it comes to name-calling, but I think they are in a lot of trouble right now," Ambassador Chris Hill, now the top US diplomat in Baghdad, told NBC News.

"They are undergoing a lot of domestic issues right now. They clearly have a serious succession problem looming and they are not sure about what to do about it."

North Korea, said Hill, who visited the reclusive Stalinist state several times in 2007 and 2008, is "one of the world's least successful countries."

The North quit six-party talks with the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea after the United Nations Security Council censured it for a rocket launch in April.

Hill said the United States is "doing fairly well" in its close cooperation with its partners in the stalled multilateral talks.

North Korea often resorts to ad hominem verbal attacks, especially in times of crisis.

Clinton's predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, was called a "political imbecile" in July 2006 after having condemned seven missile tests launched by Pyongyang.

In November 2003, the official KCNA news agency lashed out at then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld for being a "a human butcher and fascist tyrant" worse than Adolf Hitler after he called the Pyongyang regime "evil."

The North has escalated both its rhetoric and its actions in recent months, culminating with its underground nuclear test on May 25 -- its second since 2006 -- in fresh defiance of the international community.

The test, followed by several missile launches, triggered a Security Council resolution for beefed-up inspections of shipments going to and from the country and an expanded arms embargo.

Kim's regime retaliated by threatening to never give up its nuclear ambitions and to use plutonium toward military ends.