Addressing a joint press conference at Seoul with the South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, Blair stressed that since the North Korean crisis had a different history from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, it needed to be dealt with differently as well.

“We cannot have a situation in which North Korea not merely continues to develop a nuclear weapons programme but proliferates and exports that technology around the world,” Blair said.

“So, this is a situation which, I think, has to be handled with a special sensitivity,” the Prime Minister added.

Blair was in South Korea in course of a whirlwind trip through several Asian countries. The Prime Minister has since arrived in Beijing where he is due to meet senior Chinese leaders. He will also be visiting Hong Kong before heading back home.

Asked why he did not make the same threats of military action against North Korea that were made to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Blair said “there is not the same history” of UN resolutions calling for Iraq to disarm.

'So, this is a situation which, I think, has to be handled with a special sensitivity' --Tony Blair 

“But I can assure you, there is the same sense of urgency,” he insisted.

Overshadowed

But as the Prime Minister held forth eloquently on the nuclear crisis looming over the Korean peninsula, the death of defence expert David Kelly back home continued to haunt him.

Kelly apparently killed himself three days ago after being embroiled in a running feud between Downing Street and the BBC over British intelligence on Iraqi weapons.

The BBC says the government had embellished intelligence to justify the war.

Rejecting calls to resign, Blair said he had plans to carry on.

“Absolutely,” the prime minister said when asked whether he intended to carry on.

He also brushed aside demands for convening the British parliament, saying it would “generate more heat than light.”

“We need a period of reflection and a period in which the judge that’s been given the task of carrying out the inquiry can carry out the inquiry, and also allow the family the time to grieve,” he said.

Blair said he would appear before the inquiry, that he ordered to probe the circumstances leading to Kelly’s death.