North Korean Chief Cabinet Councillor Kim Ryong-song called on his southern counterpart to join hands against "foreign forces" that were threatening the Korean nation . . . without referring directly to the United States.

 

“We are prepared both for talks if certain foreign forces want

dialogue and to go to war if they want war,” Kim told reporters after holding talks with South Korean officials in Seoul.

 

Kim skirted the issue of a South Korean intelligence report on Wednesday revealing that North Korea recently reprocessed some of its estimated 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods and has also tested devices used to trigger atomic explosions.

 

South Korea was quick to caution the North Koreans against aggravating the crisis.

 

Unification Ministry spokesman Shin On-sang said he told the North Koreans during Thursday’s talks “not do anything to aggravate the nuclear problem in view of the strong concerns and resolute stance of the international community.”

 

China, an ally of North Korea which hosted South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun this week, said on Wednesday it was unaware of the activities cited in the South's intelligence report but wanted a peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

 

US wants multilateral talks

 

The United States has said that it would only talk with the North Koreans in a multilateral format involving countries directly threatened by the crisis, including South Korea, Japan and China.

 

The spent fuel rods mentioned in the report were part of a plutonium-based nuclear weapons programme at the Yongbyon nuclear site that was frozen under a 1994 nuclear deal between North Korea and the United States.
 
The pact fell apart this year after U.S. revelations of a covert North Korean scheme to enrich uranium for bomb making.

 

U.S. officials have said they detected activities at the Yongbyon site, including near the holding pond where the spent rods were stored, but they were not sure how much reprocessing has taken place.

 

The nuclear dispute  last October when U.S. officials said the North had admitted running a covert atomic programme. North Korea has since quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, said it had atomic bombs and threatened to start making more.