North Korea yesterday signalled that it would ignore demands to stop testing atom bombs, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held crisis talks with Asian allies to get the defiant regime to stand down.
US officials said a delegation from China, the North's only major ally, was in Pyongyang delivering a "very strong" warning not to proceed with another test after the first led to UN sanctions and international condemnation.
Rice meanwhile arrived in Seoul for talks with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts, part of an all-out diplomatic push to get the new sanctions enforced and tighten the pressure on the isolated regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
But her arrival came as one of the North's top diplomats said just what Rice did not want to hear -- that it would be "natural" to follow up the Oct. 9 underground explosion with a second nuclear weapons test.
"We don't have to care much about this issue," Li Gun, deputy head of North Korea's foreign ministry, told US television network ABC.
Asked if US officials should not be surprised by another test, Li said: "That's right, yes."
The international community united in condemning the first test, with the UN Security Council voting unanimously for a resolution that imposed sanctions on Pyongyang including financial, trade and military restrictions.
But both China and South Korea have baulked at inspecting North Korean cargo, which the US says is needed to prevent transfers of weapons of mass destruction to US opponents such as al-Qaeda and Iran.
Pyongyang has reacted furiously to increased sanctions laid down by the UN Security Council, calling them a "declaration of war" and threatening a "merciless" response to any nations which try to enforce them.
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