updated 7/4/2006 2:15:46 AM ET 2006-07-04T06:15:46

A top State Department official cautioned North Korea on Monday to avoid “any type of provocative activity” and to return to negotiations on its nuclear weapons program.

Referring to reports that North Korea might be preparing to launch a long-range ballistic missile, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said “that would be a profoundly unwise step by the North Koreans.”

“They have heard from just about everybody in the international community, including China, including Russia, that that would be not only extremely unwise, it would be opposed by all the countries in the world,” Burns said in an interview with C-SPAN scheduled for airing Sunday.

“It would be profoundly unwise of them,” Burns said, describing North Korea as “an unpredictable regime.”

“Our advice to the North Korea is to come back to the six-party talks,” Burns said, referring to talks Pyongyang suspended with the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia. “And our strong advice obviously is for the North Koreans not to engage in any type of provocative activity surrounding these talks,” he said.

Washington responds
The administration responded sternly to an annihilation threat from North Korea, saying while it had no intention of attacking, it was determined to protect the United States if North Korea launched a long-range missile.

“Should North Korea take the provocative action of launching a missile the U.S. would respond appropriately, including by taking the necessary measures to protect ourselves,” Julie Reside, a State Department spokeswoman, said.

Still, the United States has no intention of invading or attacking North Korea, Reside said. Rather, she said, the United States and other countries that have negotiated with North Korea are seeking a fundamentally different relationship. She said it must be based on the complete and verifiable elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and nuclear program.

“We and our partners in the six-party process continue strongly to urge North Korea not to launch a long-range missile and, instead, to return to the six-party talks,” she said in a statement.

South Korea’s former negotiator, Song Min-soon, is due in Washington later in the week for talks, and North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are certain to be on the agenda, said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official is not authorized to announce visit. Song is now South Korea’s national security adviser.

Bush, Annan in conference call
The confrontation with Pyongyang was one of a number of issues Bush and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan discussed during a phone call Monday evening.

National Security Council spokesman Fred Jones said Annan called Bush to discuss last weekend’s meeting of the World Trade Organization. “Both agreed WTO talks were at a critical stage and that the success of negotiations is a priority,” Jones said.

The two leaders also discussed Israel, Sudan and Iran during the half-hour conversation, Jones said.

North Korea vowed on Monday to respond with an “annihilating” nuclear strike if its atomic facilities were attacked pre-emptively by the United States.

Ratcheting up the rhetoric
The warning was a stepping up of the North’s customary anti-U.S. vitriol, in which it often accuses Washington of plotting an attack. The reclusive North has recently come under heightened scrutiny after reports by the United States and Japan that it has taken steps to prepare for a test of a long-range missile.

White House spokesman Tony Snow refused to respond to what he called “a hypothetical situation.”

“It is a statement about what may happen if something that hasn’t happened, happened — if you follow my drift,” he said.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency, citing an unidentified “analyst” with the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper, accused the United States of harassing Pyongyang with war exercises, a massive arms buildup and increased aerial espionage by basing new spy planes in South Korea.

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