NKor Speaks Of 'Prelude To War'

North Korea flag, atom, and nuclear energy
North Korea on Saturday warned that any moves to discuss its suspected nuclear weapons programs at the United Nations would "hamstring" efforts for dialogue and be a "prelude to war."

The warning came a day after Pyongyang agreed to multilateral talks over the nuclear standoff.

North Korea accuses the United Nations of siding with the United States to stifle it and fears the world body may impose economic sanctions on the impoverished communist nation.

"The U.S. intention to bring up the nuclear issue ... at the U.N. at any cost is a grave criminal act to hamstring" North Korea's efforts for dialogue, the official KCNA news agency said. "Any move to discuss the nuclear issue at the U.N. Security Council is little short of a prelude to a war," it said, reiterating similar comments made in the past.

On Thursday, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton criticized the Security Council, saying its credibility was at stake because it had failed to take up the North Korean nuclear issue.

China, the North's closest ally and a permanent member of the Security Council, had thwarted previous U.S. attempts to have the council condemn the North over its nuclear ambitions.

An early U.N. discussion of North Korea seems unlikely. Even South Korea, a U.S. ally, has said all diplomatic options should be exhausted before the Security Council takes up the issue.

Washington has long pushed for multilateral talks on the issue, saying it wants Pyongyang to end its nuclear programs. North Korea had insisted on one-on-one talks with the United States, through which it hopes to win a security guarantee.

But North Korea agreed on Friday to multilateral talks, saying it would push for direct talks with the United States within the multiparty conclave. Washington said bilateral talks were a possibility.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard lauded China's role in bringing the agreement and said Saturday that Beijing was the key to resolving the dispute.

"China more than any other country can exert long-term influence and long-term pressure on North Korea," he said.

On Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Pyongyang might consider freezing its nuclear programs if multilateral talks go well and it receives an assurance from the United States that it will not be attacked.

Annan also called for the talks on North Korea's nuclear program to begin soon.

No date has been set for the talks, which are expected to be held in China, and no decision has been made on the level of the officials who will attend. The U.S. the two Koreas, Japan, China and Russia are expectd to take part.

President Bush said Friday he sees hope that North Korea can be persuaded to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs because that goal is shared by the United States and the other countries at the talks.

"In the past it was the lone voice of the United States speaking clearly about this. Now we'll have other parties who have got a vested interest in peace on the Korean peninsula," Mr. Bush said.

An unidentified official at South Korea's presidential office said talks could open "late this month or early next month," according to Seoul's Yonhap news agency.

The last time the United States and North Korea had official talks was in April in Beijing. U.S. officials said that North Korea claimed at the talks it already had nuclear bombs and planned to build more.

U.S. officials believe North Korea already has one or two nuclear bombs and can yield enough plutonium from its 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods to build several more within months.

The nuclear standoff began in October when U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted having a uranium-based nuclear weapons program in violation of international agreements.