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North Korea equates sanctions to act of war

2d nuclear test plan suspected

SEOUL -- North Korea yesterday assailed UN sanctions against it as tantamount to a declaration of war, amid reports that it may be preparing another nuclear test.

Responding officially for the first time to UN sanctions over its Oct. 9 nuclear test, North Korea threatened fierce reprisals against any nation that attempts to enforce the sanctions resolution.

``The resolution cannot be construed otherwise than [as] a declaration of a war," the North Korean foreign ministry said in a statement. ``We will deliver merciless blows without hesitation to whoever tries to breach our sovereignty and right to survive under the excuse of carrying out the UN Security Council resolution."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to arrive in Tokyo today on the first stop on a trip to try to rally support for the UN sanctions from Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia.

The sanctions call for all countries to inspect cargo to and from North Korea to search for major weapons and material that could be used in missile and nuclear programs.

North Korea, an impoverished nation that has become what is believed to be the ninth country to be a nuclear power , said it was ``nonsensical" to try to restrain it now that it has a nuclear arsenal.

Officials in Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo all acknowledged reports that satellites had picked up suspicious movements of trucks and people at a site in North Korea's northeast indicating preparations for a possible second nuclear test, apparently because the first relatively small test was seen as only a partial success.

``It would not be unreasonable to expect that the North Koreans would like to try something again," White House press secretary Tony Snow said. ``It would not be a good thing for them, but it certainly would not be out of character."

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, speaking in Tokyo, acknowledged the reports: ``I have received information on that, but can't disclose the details."

North Korea's latest saber-rattling appeared to magnify the challenges Rice faces in forging a common strategy on the sanctions.

Chinese and South Korean leaders have voiced fresh concerns that Washington-led punitive action against North Korea could bring instability and possible armed confrontation.

``Things must be done in such a way that they don't bring about an escalation of the situation into something uncontrollable," President Hu Jintao of China told a group of Japanese lawmakers visiting Beijing, the Kyodo news agency reported.

Echoing those concerns, South Korean Prime Minister Han Myung-Sook said the sanctions should be aimed at pushing North Korea back to long-stalled six-nation talks to dismantle its nuclear program.

``Sanctions against the North should be carried out in a way to push North Korea back to the dialogue table," she said. ``They must not be implemented in any way that could spark an armed clash."

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