Jittery nations yesterday warned North Korea to abandon plans to test an atom bomb after the reclusive state again unnerved world leaders with a shock announcement on its nuclear capabilities.
The UN Security Council was to meet in New York to try to forge a unified international response after Pyongyang said on Tuesday it would test the bomb to deter what it called the US threat of nuclear war.
North Korea gave no date for the test and some analysts saw the announcement as an effort to gain leverage with the US, but nations said they were taking immediate action and that the threat was serious.
Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the world needed to send a united message to North Korea's isolated communist regime.
"It is important that the international community send North Korea a message that it must respond to their concerns," Abe said. "The situation will not be resolved until North Korea recognizes this."
China, the main political ally and chief supplier of food and energy to the impoverished North, appealed for "calm and restraint" from the North, while South Korea warned it would cut off vital economic aid if the test went ahead.
"We are taking measures on the assumption that North Korea is more likely [than not] to conduct a nuclear test," South Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung said. "We are working to come up with countermeasures."
North Korea last drew the ire of the international community in July, when it test-fired seven missiles -- one thought to be capable eventually of reaching US soil.
Those launches led to a Security Council resolution that imposed missile-related sanctions on the North, tightening the restrictions on a regime already under tough US financial sanctions.
US President George W. Bush has lumped North Korea in with Iran and Iraq as part of an "axis of evil," and the US was quick to join condemnations of its arch-foe's latest announcement.
Australia, a key US ally, summoned the North Korean ambassador to warn of "severe consequences" ahead.
"This is a defiant, impudent act," Australian Prime Minister John Howard said. "It could be dangerous for the region ... There has to be a maximum international response, in a diplomatic way."
Analysts said there was concern that a North Korean weapons test could undermine stability and spur an arms race in the region, while South Korean officials were quick yesterday to express fears of a nuclear-armed Japan.
"That may provide an excuse for Japan's nuclear armament, which in turn will cause repercussions from China and Russia and lead to a change in the overall balance of power," Vice Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told the South Korean parliament.