"Sanctions are nonsense," says one North Korean official of the punitive measures the United Nations is considering imposing in reaction to Monday's nuclear weapons test. "If full-scale sanctions take place, we will regard it as a declaration of war."
The North Korean official – commenting on the condition that his name be kept anonymous – said he doesn't know if North Korea is preparing a second nuclear test, but the North will decide whether to carry out another test "according to the development of the situation."
The North already is under limited sanctions imposed by the United States and some allies. The U.N. Security Council is considering broader measures in response to North Korea's claimed nuclear test Monday.
North Korea also has a message directly for the United States.
"If the U.S. keeps pestering us and increases pressure, we will regard it as a declaration of war and will take a series of physical corresponding measures," the North's Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
"We were compelled to conduct a nuclear test because of the U.S. nuclear threat and pressure of sanctions," the statement said. "We are ready for both dialogue and confrontation."
The statement was the first formal announcement from the North Korean government since KCNA reported the Monday test.
"Even though we conducted the nuclear test because of the U.S., we still remain committed to realizing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and negotiations," the ministry said.
Wednesday morning's rhetoric – ratcheting up tensions as the U.N. prepares to vote, with China now backing 'some' punitive action – came several hours after Asia was rattled by another event: a report that North Korea might have done yet another nuclear test.
The report early Wednesday sent scientists scrambling to seismic meters around the globe – but within a short time, officials in the U.S., Japan, and South Korea all said they found.
North Korea's No. 2 leader says that the decision of whether to carry out further nuclear tests depends on how the United States treats his country.
"If the United States continues to take a hostile attitude and apply pressure on us in various forms," said Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, "we will have no choice but to take physical steps to deal with that."
The Bush administration has asked the U.N. Security Council to impose a partial trade embargo including strict limits on Korea's profitable weapons exports and freezing of related financial assets. All imports would be inspected too, to filter out materials that could be made into nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
In an excerpt of a Kyodo News interview, Kim also says that North Korea is ready to return to six-party talks on its nuclear program - if existing sanctions are lifted.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun meanwhile says North Korea's claims of being under threat are exaggerated.
"North Korea says the reason it is pursuing nuclear (weapons) is for its security, but the security threat North Korea speaks of either does not exist in reality, or is very exaggerated" said Roh, according to Yonhap News.
South Korea also says it will enlarge its conventional arsenal - if North Korea is confirmed to have nuclear weapons.
"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," said South Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung, speaking to the Parliament.
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters that the council must give a "firm, constructive, appropriate but prudent response" to North Korea.
"I think there has to be some punitive actions but also I think these actions have to be appropriate," he said.
The comments signal a hardening of the stance taken by China, which is viewed as having the greatest outside leverage on North Korea, in part because it is a provider of economic and energy aid.
"With both North Korea andon Wednesday's U.N. agenda, the ability of the Security Council to pressure both nations to get back to negotiations and halt their nuclear programs is being seen as a test of the U.N. to keep a nuclear weapons race from spiraling out of control," says CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk.
"South Korea's Foreign Minister, Ban Ki Moon, as the soon-to-be-appointed next Secretary General, will be at U.N. headquarters as well," says Falk, "making his first appearance since the Security Council chose him to succeed Kofi Annan."
The debate over sanctions began as scientists and governments suggested that the underground test on Monday was a partial failure, producing a smaller blast than had been planned.
Diplomats said Tuesday there is a general agreement that the Security Council must pass a sanctions resolution in the next few days. The council's image suffered badly the last time it deadlocked over a major crisis, over the summer when it needed a month to pass a resolution on ending the war between Israel and Hezbollah.
"All I can say is that we are having a very good discussion, trying to identify what really we are going to be able to achieve, and I think there is general understanding also about the need to get our act together, and fast," Japan's U.N. Ambassador Kenzo Oshima said. "On that we agree."
The United States reiterated that it would not talk with the North Koreans one-on-one, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured the North that the United States would not attack.
Rice also suggested, in an interview with CBS Evening News Anchor Katie Couric, that the Bush administration opposes one-on-one talks with North Korea because that situation would be too advantageous to Pyongyang.
The Secretary of State says in two-way talks, the North Koreas would be able to bring all the pressure to bear on the U.S. to produce a solution, whereas in the six-nation talks including North Korea's neighbors, Pyongyang is subject to pressure from all the participants to back away from its nuclear program.
Rice separately rejected a suggestion that Pyongyang may feel it needs nuclear weapons to stave off an Iraq-style U.S. invasion. President Bush, Rice told CNN, has told "the North Koreans that there is no intention to invade or attack them. So they have that guarantee... I don't know what more they want."
David Albright, an expert on North Korea's nuclear program, says North Korean leaders believe acquiring nuclear missiles can convince the United States the cost of attacking them is too high.
"They need to be able to convince the United States that if there is a military strike against nuclear facilities in North Korea, they can, in essence, nuke U.S. military assets in Japan," Albright told CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton sounded upbeat after Tuesday's round of talks at the Security Council, but said differences remain.
"Look, we don't have complete agreement on this yet, that's hardly a news flash, but we're making progress and we're I think at a point we can try and narrow some of the differences we do have," Bolton said.
China, which reacted to Monday's blast with a strong condemnation but considers North Korea a useful buffer against U.S. forces stationed in South Korea, said it envisioned only a limited package of sanctions — not what the United States and especially Japan are demanding.
China and Russia object to plans to interdict shipments and block financial transactions. They also oppose a new suggestion that Japan proposed Tuesday — to include mention of the North's abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s.
"We certainly understand that Japan is close to the country. But I think you cannot ask by this resolution to kill a country," China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya told The Associated Press. He said the Security Council must impose "punitive actions" but that they have to "be appropriate."
Though far less than what the Americans and Japanese seek, even calling for some punishment was significant for China, which usually opposes sanctions, particularly against an ally such as North Korea.
Pyongyang again demanded one-on-one talks with Washington and threatened to launch a nuclear-tipped missile if the United States doesn't help resolve the standoff. Bolton dismissed the demand, saying the North should instead "buy a ticket to Beijing," and rejoin stalled six-nation talks over its nuclear and missile programs.
A South Korean newspaper quoted a North Korean diplomat, whom it did not name, saying that the blast was "smaller in scale than expected.
"But the success in a small-scale (test) means a large-scale (test) is also possible," he said in comments posted on the Web site of the liberal newspaper Hankyoreh, which has good ties with the communist nation.
The diplomat also said the North could take "additional measures" and that it doesn't fear sanctions.
Philip Coyle, at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, a non-government think tank, expressed a growing view that "they got a partial result" and not the full-power explosion that they sought. Several Western estimates said the blast was less than a tenth the size of the 12-megaton bomb that the United States dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
But "for them it was enough ... to say that it was a success," said Coyle. "It helps them to claim that they are a nuclear power, and that the world should take them seriously, which is what they want. But I wouldn't be surprised if, after several months, they don't try again."
The White House said there is a "remote possibility" that the world never will be able to fully determine whether North Korea succeeded in conducting a nuclear test Monday.
Democrats said the test was evidence of a, which White House press secretary Tony Snow denied.
"The Chinese, the South Koreans, the Japanese — they all have more direct leverage over the North Koreans than we do," Snow said. "The people who have the greatest ability to influence behavior are now fully invested, as equal partners, in a process to deal with the government of North Korea."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said President Clinton was to blame for his 1990s program to entice the North Koreans toward more cooperation. "The Koreans received millions and millions in energy assistance. They've diverted millions of dollars of food assistance to their military," he said.
After the reclusive regime announced it had set off an underground atomic explosion, the Security Council quickly condemned North Korea's decision to flout a U.N. appeal to cancel the test. The 15-nation council urged Pyongyang to return to stalled talks, refrain from further tests and keep its pledge to scrap its clandestine weapons program.
Despite the positive assessment, familiar fault lines that have plagued past negotiations over North Korea already began to appear.
Japan, which holds the presidency of the Security Council for October, demanded the toughest sanctions of all, possibly including a blanket air and naval blockade of North Korea, as well as a ban on senior North Korean diplomats traveling abroad. In Tokyo, Japan's leader said the country could slap sanctions on North Korea without waiting for confirmation that it did indeed test a nuclear weapon.
"Instead, the international community and the United Nations should take positive and appropriate measures that will help the process of de-nuclearization on the Korean peninsula," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao.
"The nuclear test will undoubtedly exert a negative impact on our relations," Liu continued, saying that Monday's test was done "flagrantly, and in disregard of the international community's shared opposition."
"We hope the situation will be resolved before an unfortunate incident of us firing a nuclear missile comes," Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, quoted an unidentified North Korean official as saying. "That depends on how the U.S. will act." Yonhap did not say how or where it contacted the official, or why no name was given.
The news agency quoted the official as saying the nuclear test was "an expression of our intention to face the United States across the negotiating table."