Japanese plane 298.8.
(photo credit: AP)
China and South Korea on Tuesday strongly opposed threatening North Korea with a military strike, while the US and Japan focused on slapping sanctions on the reclusive communist nation for its alleged nuclear test.
Although the world powers weren't talking about waging war with Pyongyang, a North Korean official reportedly warned that his country could launch a nuclear-tipped missile.
"We hope the situation will be resolved before an unfortunate incident of us firing a nuclear missile comes," South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted the unidentified North Korean official as saying. "That depends on how the US will act."
Most defense experts say the North lacks the capability for such a move.
US Ambassador John Bolton, meeting with the UN Security Council on Tuesday, said the North had a history of intimidating other nations.
"They're not going to be successful with us," he said on CBS television's "The Early Show."
Bolton refused to rule out military action, including a naval blockade, but emphasized that US President George W. Bush wants to resolve the matter using peaceful means.
The North has insisted that Washington hold direct talks with Pyongyang to resolve the standoff over its nuclear program. But the US ambassador in Seoul, Alexander Vershbow, said Monday's report that the North conducted the underground nuclear test would make the possibility of such talks more difficult.
Vershbow insisted that six-party talks - also involving China, Japan, Russia and South Korea - were still the best approach.
"The North Korean nuclear issue is not a bilateral problem but rather a problem between North Korea and all of its neighbors as well as the United States," he told local reporters.
The UN Security Council was discussing a US draft resolution that aims to curb the North's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, prohibit all trade in military and luxury goods, and crack down on illegal financial dealings.
Such potentially crippling sanctions have long been opposed by China, once a close ally of the North. Beijing on Tuesday was sticking to its policy of "positive and appropriate measures" rather than "the negative issue of punishment," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters.
Liu added: "Taking military action against North Korea would be unimaginable."
China, a UN Security Council member, has a big say about how North Korea should be punished.
The South Koreans were lining up with the Chinese in opposing any UN resolution that includes a military threat.
"There should never be war on the Korean Peninsula," South Korean Prime Minister Han Myung-sook told parliament.
Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said Tuesday that his country may impose additional sanctions against North Korea without waiting to confirm whether it conducted a nuclear weapons test. Abe said wanted to pressure the reclusive country to change its policies.
There have been worries that the reported nuclear test would prompt Japan to build its own bomb. But Abe told lawmakers Japan's anti-nuclear policy would remain unchanged.
"There will be no change in our non-nuclear arms principles," he said.
South Korea said that it believed the North had exploded a nuclear device, but officials claimed that it might take up to two weeks to confirm whether the test was successful.
Seoul was borrowing a sophisticated radioactivity detector - set to arrive Wednesday - from Sweden to confirm the tests, said Bae Koo-hyun, a researcher of the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety.
Although the reported test drew worldwide condemnation and talk of harsh sanctions, the South said it would stick with its efforts to engage the North, though the policy would be reviewed.
Relations between the rivals were taking a beating on several levels. North Korea pulled out of an international women's soccer competition scheduled for later this month in South Korea, citing a "complex" situation, organizers said Tuesday.
North Korea celebrated a holiday Tuesday marking the 61st anniversary of the Workers' Party of Korea. There was no traffic across a key bridge on a border river between China and North Korea.
In the Chinese border city of Dandong, there were no signs of heightened security. Reporters saw two boatloads of North Korean tourists on the river, smiling and waving to people on the Chinese shore.