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Seoul warns against new nuke test

CNN | October 19 2006

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon has warned that a second nuclear test by North Korea will bring "grave consequences."

Ban was speaking at a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who arrived in Seoul Thursday for meetings to discuss the region's response to North Korea's suspected nuclear test.

Ban, the new Secretary General of the U.N., said his country would reconsider key tourism and economic zone projects with North Korea in line with U.N. resolution if it returned to the international arms talks that have been on hold since last year.

Ban and Rice expressed a united front against the claimed test and in support of U.N. sanctions, but there was little indication that Seoul would back Washington's hard-line approach to dealing with Pyongyang.

Rice said she did not mean to pressure the South to take specific steps but added: "Everyone should take stock of the leverage we have to get North Korea to return to the six-party talks."

Her visit came as a senior Bush administration official said China has shown a dramatic shift in its posture toward North Korea and the country's nuclear program.

According to the official, Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan is in Pyongyang to send a "very strong" message to North Korea, regarding compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, which was passed on a unanimous vote last weekend following an October 9 nuclear test by the North.

Asked about the possibility of a possible second nuclear test by Pyongyang, the official said: "The North Koreans have 365 excuses to do ridiculous things. It's not in their interest to do so."

The official also said no one is looking for the collapse of the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il through the sanctions.

In Seoul, Rice is scheduled to hold three-way talks with Ban and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso.

South Korea has in the past been reluctant to upset its northern neighbor, preferring to focus on its "sunshine policy" of reconciliation with Pyongyang.

There were signs before Rice arrived, however, that Seoul's patience had run out, according to reports from The Associated Press.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Thursday that Seoul has decided to halt subsidies to a joint tourism venture to the North's Diamond Mountain that has been operating since 1998.

The report, which did not cite any source, also said the South was planning to inspect cargo heading to North Korea, and also to inspect North Korean ships stopping at South Korean ports.

The South's Unification Ministry could not immediately confirm the report. It said the plans were being considered but no final decision had been made.

Seoul is the second stop for Rice on a four-nation swing tour to shore up support for United Nations Security Council sanctions against Pyongyang. She also will travel to China and Russia.

Rice arrived from Tokyo following meetings with Japanese leaders. At a news conference in Japan, America's top diplomat reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Tokyo and the region. The United States has security agreements with Japan and South Korea.

"The United States has the will and the ability to meet the full range of its deterrent and security commitments to Japan," Rice said.

She also echoed U.S. President George W. Bush's earlier comments that Pyongyang will be held accountable "should it transfer nuclear materials or weapons to other states or to nonstate actors." (Watch why U.S. is worried there will be a second test -- 2:00)

Rice also met with the Japanese prime minister, chief cabinet secretary and defense minister on her tour to encourage strict enforcement of the sanctions approved by the U.N. Security Council on Saturday following North Korea's nuclear test on October 9.

"We have discussed the security situation in the region in light of the earlier North Korean nuclear test, and the U.N. Security Council has acted firmly and resolutely to say to the North Koreans that it is unacceptable," Rice said.

Rice also said Iran's nuclear agenda was discussed and said she expects the U.N. Security Council will take action.

The U.N. resolution calls for inspections of cargo traveling to and from North Korea to search for items that could be used in a nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction program.

Rice's arrival in Asia came as the intelligence community said it had observed potential preparations for a nuclear test at three or more sites in North Korea, according to a U.S. intelligence analyst.

An official with access to intelligence information said that activity at one site looked very similar to activity seen at the site of the first nuclear test just before that explosion was detonated.

The official said buildings and other structures were being fabricated at this second site, possibly in an effort to hide activities there from spy satellites. (Watch what U.S. intelligence is finding at possible test site -- 1:46 )

There were also reports of statements from senior North Korean military officials saying that the government intended to conduct multiple tests, the official said.

Activity was also seen at the site of the confirmed nuclear test, the official told CNN. It was not clear if that activity was cleanup, maintenance or just wrapping up the testing there.

While traveling to Japan, Rice said the United States had concerns about a second North Korean nuclear test.

"I'm not going to speculate," she said of the possible test preparations, "but obviously we're concerned about a further action by the North Koreans. But, further action by the North Koreans is only going to deepen their isolation, which is pretty deep right now."

"We have no desire to see this crisis escalate," Rice said. "In fact, it is our goal to see a de-escalation of this, despite North Korea's actions. But North Korea now needs to understand that the international community has spoken.

"The international community has said that it is unacceptable for North Korea to have a nuclear program, that denuclearization of the Korean peninsula remains the goal of the international community." (Watch Rice warn North Korea -- 1:32 )

Diplomatic sources in South Korea said Seoul was aware of the activity at the North Korean nuclear sites, and news agencies in Japan quoted sources in the government saying they, too, were aware of the activity.

In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Snow said it would not be "unreasonable to assume the North Koreans are planning a second test."

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