updated 4/25/2005 6:39:00 PM ET 2005-04-25T22:39:00

In a rare harsh tone, South Korea warned North Korea on Monday against conducting a nuclear test, and the communist state said it would consider any U.N. sanctions a “declaration of war.”

The South Korean warning comes amid fears the isolated state is trying to harvest plutonium for more weapons after it apparently shut down a nuclear reactor and that it might be preparing for its first nuclear test.

Recent revelations have prompted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to say that although Washington had no timeline for taking North Korea to the United Nations, it was willing to go to the Security Council. Such a move could eventually lead to economic sanctions on the North.

‘Worsen the isolation’
“Nuclear weapons can never guarantee North Korea’s security and will only bring about and worsen the isolation of its politics and economy,” South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said in Seoul during a speech at a forum, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

North Korea, meanwhile, said Monday the United States should provide it with “conditions and justification” if it is interested in the resumption of international disarmament talks, which also involve China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

“The stand of the DPRK is that the U.S. may bring the nuclear issue to the (U.N. Security Council), if it wants that so much,” the spokesman said, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. “But, we make one thing clear: The DPRK will regard the sanctions as a declaration of war.”

DPRK stands for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

“We can never return to the talks nor can we have any form of dealing with the U.S. unless the ill fame of an ‘outpost of tyranny’ is shaken off,” the spokesman said, referring to earlier comments by Rice.

U.S. reportedly exploring options
Washington is reportedly exploring other options in stopping North Korea from building up its alleged nuclear arsenal.

The New York Times reported Monday that the Bush administration is debating a plan to seek a U.N. resolution allowing countries to intercept shipments in or out of North Korea that may contain nuclear materials or components.

The proposed resolution, promoted by a growing number of senior administration officials, would enable the U.S. and other nations to intercept shipments in international waters off the Korean Peninsula, and force down aircraft for inspection, the Times reported.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Monday he knew of no plan by senior U.S. officials to seek a U.N. Security Council resolution allowing nations to intercept North Korean shipping suspected of having nuclear materials. But Ereli did not deny that it could be in the works.

Asked to confirm or deny that senior officials were discussing the possibility of seeking a resolution, Ereli said: “At senior levels? Not that I’m aware of. I have not — I don’t know about other levels.”

When he was asked if security assurances to North Korea by President Bush and Rice would cover such interdictions, which normally are considered acts of war, Ereli said: “We’ve said we have no intention of attacking or invading North Korea.”

The North’s spokesman indicated his country was not intimidated.

‘Arrogant, outrageous and brigandish’
“We are fully ready to cope with everything in a do-or-die spirit and have already prepared all countermeasures against the sanctions,” the spokesman said. “We have built the nuclear deterrent force with so much effort despite enormous difficulties in order to effectively cope with the arrogant, outrageous and brigandish method of the U.S.”

China’s U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya rejected the idea of a council resolution, as Chinese officials have repeatedly done in the past. One of five permanent members of the council, China could veto any resolution the United States proposes.

“I don’t think that at this moment to talk about other mechanisms would be helpful,” Wang said. “Everyone believes that the six-party process is the best and probably the only process that will make good results,” he said.

North Korea declared in February that it had nuclear weapons and was boycotting the nuclear talks. Since then, efforts to get the North back to the bargaining table have floundered.

In the latest diplomatic push, Washington’s top envoy on the North Korean nuclear issue met with South Korean officials Monday and discussed ways to revive the negotiations. He will be flying to China on Tuesday for similar talks.

“What we are focusing on is the diplomatic track and the need to get the talks going, and more importantly, once they get going, to achieve progress in the talks,” Christopher Hill, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said following his meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Song Min-soon.

International experts believe North Korea may have at least two or three bombs.

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