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Last Updated:  Friday, 11 April, 2003, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
N Korea 'ready for war'
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il with his military top brass
North Korea fears it will be the next US military target
North Korea's secretive leader, Kim Jong-il, has reportedly made a highly symbolic visit to an air force base, hours after the fall of Baghdad.

Mr Kim told pilots that he was glad to see them ready to "beat back enemies whenever they challenge", official radio reported.

North Korea is thought to be worried that it will be the United States next military target after Iraq, after both counties were labelled by US President George W Bush as part of an "axis of evil".

Mr Kim's visit came as a senior North Korean diplomat said the outcome of the war in Iraq had made his country determined to defend itself against a possible US attack.

South Korea and Russia both made fresh moves on Friday to guard against the crisis on the Korean peninsula escalating further.

South Korea launched a stealth warship capable of electronic spying on the North, while a senior Russian diplomat said Moscow needed to consider extra defence measures.

We are forced to think about preventive measures to defend our national interests... in case of a serious conflict in the region
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Alexander Losyukov
North Korea's deputy ambassador at the UN, Han Song-ryol warned a seminar in the US on Thursday that "the result of the Iraq war gives [North Korea] a kind of determination and the will to take assured measures to defend its territory against possible US attacks."

Mr Han added that the US could "expect many positive steps from North Korea in resolving nuclear problems" if it accepted its offer for bilateral talks.

But Washington wants multilateral talks, which would also include China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.

Several of North Korea's neighbours are working behind the scenes to try and find a solution to the impasse.

On alert

At the same time, they are mindful of their own security.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Alexander Losyukov, said on Friday: "We are forced to think about preventive measures to defend our national interests and - why hide it - to defend our population on territories bordering on Korea in case of a serious conflict in the region," Interfax news agency reported.

In South Korea, President Roh Moo-hyun attended the launch of the country's most advanced warship, equipped for electronic monitoring, and anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare.

The crisis on the Korean peninsula began when the US said in October that North Korea had admitted to a secretive enriched uranium programme.

In a report predating the crisis, released on Thursday, the American CIA said it had been suspicious that this was the case for several years.

The unclassified report to Congress, which assessed the situation in North Korea during the first half of 2002, said that Pyongyang appeared to be aiming to build a plant that could produce enough uranium for two or more nuclear weapons a year.

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