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S. Korea warns not to press North too hard amid reports it may test a nuclear bomb

AP | August 25 2006

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea warned Friday against overly aggressive efforts to persuade North Korea to halt its nuclear program, after a new media report suggested it may be moving toward testing an atomic weapon.

"We need to exhibit resolve in denouncing North Korea's bad behavior whilst having the wisdom not to corner North Korea into a dead end with no way out," Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon told foreign correspondents in Seoul.

Still, he acknowledged a possible nuclear test would call for a tough response.

"If North Korea forges ahead with a possible nuclear test, it will have far more serious repercussions than the recent missile launches," Ban said, declining to give specifics.

The North stoked regional tensions last month by test-firing seven missiles, drawing U.N. Security Council sanctions, and concerns are growing that it could be preparing for a nuclear test.

Japan's Kyodo News agency reported late Thursday that vehicles were seen in recent days at what is thought to be a nuclear testing site in northeastern North Korea. That follows a U.S. media report last week of other suspicious activity at a suspected test site.

The Japanese government's top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, declined Friday to confirm the report, saying he could not comment on what Japan knows because of intelligence reasons, but urged Pyongyang to return to stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear disarmament.

"If North Korea does carry out its nuclear experiment, it will pose a grave threat to the peace and security of Japan, Northeast Asia, and the international community," Abe said in Tokyo. "It will be absolutely unacceptable."

Japan's Foreign Ministry said that Tokyo had boosted surveillance of the area, but defense officials also refused to confirm the Kyodo report.

Ban also said South Korea is "closely monitoring North Korea's movements" in cooperation with the U.S. and other countries.

The North has said it won't return to international nuclear talks until a Macau bank where it held accounts is removed from a U.S. blacklist, which would free the regime's money now frozen by the bank.

The U.S. has said the issue is separate from the nuclear talks, but that it could discuss that and other concerns if the North returns to the six-nation negotiations, which also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

Ban said Friday the South Korean government "is in close consultation with all the other parties at the six-party talks, including the United States, to find a flexible and creative way out of the current stalemate situation." He didn't elaborate.

However, the North's missile tests have worsened regional stability and made an early resumption of the nuclear talks unlikely, he said.

"There has been a significant deterioration in the prospects for the resumption of the six-party talks following North Korea's recent missile launches," Ban said.

South Korea cut off regular humanitarian aid to the North after the launches, but agreed to send emergency relief after the impoverished country suffered severe floods last month that further endangered its food supply.

However, other countries such as the U.S. and Japan have been moving to sever the North's connections to the international monetary system, accusing the government of complicity in illegal activities such as counterfeiting and money laundering.

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