Page last updated at 20:48 GMT, Saturday, 17 January 2009

N Korea issues warning to Seoul

North Korean guard looks at the South, 2008
North Korea's recent ties with South Korea have been hostile

The North Korean military has warned South Korea that its "confrontational" policies may force it to retaliate.

North Korea's priority was to build up its "nuclear deterrent force" and retain it while there was the slightest threat from the US, Pyongyang added.

South Korea has ordered troops to strengthen their guard, officials said.

Ties between the Koreas have chilled since President Lee Myung-bak took office in Seoul. The remarks also come ahead of Barack Obama's inauguration.

New weapons

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who took office last year, has pledged to get tough with Pyongyang over its nuclear programme.

US and South Korean efforts to persuade the communist nation to give up its nuclear ambitions in exchange for aid appear to have stalled.

Selig Harrison, an American expert who has just returned from North Korea, said he was told that the country had "weaponised" enough declared plutonium stocks to produce four to five nuclear weapons.

He was also told that the weapons could not be inspected.

But Mr Harrison said that officials also told him that if the incoming US administration wanted better relations, the two sides could "become intimate friends".

The statement from Pyongyang was a signal to US President-elect Barack Obama ahead of his inauguration next week, analysts said.

A six-nation deal aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions in exchange for aid has faltered in recent months.

The US wants North Korea to disclose its full nuclear arsenal, but the two sides disagree on how the information should be verified.

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