SEOUL - North Korea yesterday said it would regard sanctions as a call to war and threatened more nuclear tests if the US continued with its "hostile attitude" towards the communist regime.
The warnings from the reclusive state - which shocked the world by announcing its first nuclear weapons test on Monday - came as South Korea ordered its military to check its readiness for a nuclear conflict.
"The issue of future nuclear tests is linked to US policy toward our country," said Kim Yong Nam, who is second to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
"If the United States continues to take a hostile attitude and apply pressure on us in various forms, we will have no choice but to take physical steps to deal with that," Kim said in an interview with Japan's Kyodo News agency.
Earlier, an unnamed North Korean official said it would regard full-scale sanctions as a call to war, Yonhap news agency reported.
"Sanctions are nonsense. If full-scale sanctions take place, we will regard it as a declaration of war," the official said.
"The more pressure we get, the stronger our response will be."
Amid the rising tension, South Korea has ordered its military to check its readiness for nuclear war, stressing the need for new weapons able to destroy anything that might deliver a nuclear weapon, Yonhap reported.
"If North Korea really has the (nuclear) capabilities, we will improve and enlarge the number of conventional weapons as long as it doesn't violate the principle of denuclearisation," the South's Defence Minister Yoon Kwang-ung told parliament.
"We will supplement (our ability) to conduct precision strikes against storage facilities and intercept delivery means, while also improving the system of having military units and individuals defend themselves."
In a sign of just how nervous the world is, panic quickly spread yesterday following Japanese news reports that Pyongyang may have carried a second test detonation in defiance of UN warnings.
But US and South Korean geological monitors were quick to quash the reports, saying they had not detected any new seismic activity in North Korea.
Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe later said he'd had no confirmation of a second blast, with the White House also saying there was nothing to indicate the reports were correct.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer yesterday said it would be "highly provocative" if North Korea conducted another test.
"If they go ahead with further tests, this is a regime that is really out of control," he said.
Prime Minister John Howard said it heaped more pressure on the United Nations Security Council to take strong action against Pyongyang.
" ... the options for the world are few ... the best response of the world is to act in unison and even an outlaw rogue state such as North Korea will take notice of the rest of the world," he said.
"This is a huge test for collective international action."
Australia also insisted yesterday that it had no plans to sell uranium to India, backing away from recent suggestions it may be willing to change its nuclear supply policy to sell to New Delhi.
The statement came amid fears Pyongyang's defiant actions could fuel a regional arms race.
China and Russia, which both border North Korea, have met other veto-holding members of the UN Security Council to discuss the range of sanctions proposed by the US and Japan.
"I think that there has to be some punitive actions," Beijing's UN ambassador, Wang Guangya, said.
"We need to have a firm, constructive, appropriate but prudent response to North Korea's nuclear threat."
Russia called Monday's reported test a "colossal blow" to the nonproliferation regime but, like China, insisted an eventual UN resolution should not involve the use of force.
UN diplomats said China - North Korea's chief ally and benefactor - had proposed citing specific provisions in the UN Charter to make sure any sanctions excluded any hint of military action.
Wang, the envoys said, had also made clear his opposition to a US proposal to allow international inspections of cargo leaving or moving into North Korea.
The United States, France and Britain, the three other permanent council members, agreed tough measures were needed fast, despite the fact that only Russia has said the evidence available confirms a nuclear blast actually occurred.
Diplomats hoped the resolution could be adopted by the weekend on an array of weapons-related and financial sanctions.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington was still evaluating what happened on Monday, but that North Korea crossed "an important line" when it claimed it launched a nuclear test, and the world must react.
"We have to take the claim seriously, because it is a political claim if nothing else," Rice told CNN.
Another US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the "working assumption" in the intelligence community is that it was a nuclear test that didn't go well.
- REUTERS, AGENCIES