WASHINGTON – As reports circulated of a second imminent nuclear test, a high-ranking North Korean official who is called the unofficial spokesman for Kim Jong-il issued a not-so-veiled threat to the United States today in an interview with South Korean radio.

“Everything will be settled in a week,” said Kim Myong-chol on KBS Radio. “That is, whether we, Korean people, will remain as we are now, or lose, or New York will lose, or Washington, D.C., will lose, it will all be settled once and for all.”

The report was carried in Chosun Ilbo, a Korean-language newspaper in the south.

The South Korean government is trying to verify intelligence that North Korea is to conduct another nuclear test soon – possibly in the next two or three days.

Quoting a reliable source on North Korea, the report said: “Many indications from North Korea point to the high likelihood that North Korea would conduct another nuclear test in two or three days. We received intelligence Oct. 11 that says the North Korean military is showing unusual movements.”

Alexander Downer, Australian foreign minister, said yesterday, “We have intelligence that North Korea would have another nuclear test soon. We are very concerned about it.”

Meanwhile, in what would appear to be a major setback for the U.S., which is banking on China to rein in North Korea, Beijing appeared to shy away today from backing U.S. efforts to impose a travel ban and financial sanctions for its claimed nuclear test, saying any U.N. action should focus on bringing its neighbor back to talks.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said North Korea should understand it had made a mistake but “punishment should not be the purpose” of any U.N. response.

U.N. action “should be conducive to the de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula … and the resumption of the talks,” he told reporters. “It’s necessary to express clearly to North Korea that … the international community is opposed to this nuclear test.”

The U.S. is circulating a new U.N. Security Council resolution that seeks to ban travel by people involved in North Korea’s weapons program but softens some other measures to win Russian and Chinese support. North Korea responded that it would consider increased U.S. pressure an act of war and take unspecified “physical” countermeasures.

China is in a position to veto any U.N. resolutions against North Korea.

The latest U.S. proposal, obtained by the Associated Press, dropped Japanese demands to prohibit North Korean ships from entering any port and North Korean aircraft from taking off or landing in any country.

The North will consider increased U.S. pressure “a declaration of war,” RI Kong Son, vice spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, said in an interview with AP Television News in Pyongyang.

Also today, a high-ranking defector from North Korea told the Yonhap news agency that Pyongyang has already manufactured several nuclear weapons and is ready to deploy these in the event of a war.

Hwang Jang-yop, a former secretary of the Workers Party of Korea and one of the North’s top theorists, said the reclusive nation signed a pact with Pakistan in 1996 on the transfer of uranium-based nuclear technology.

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