Just hours after the last two U.N.-certified nuclear inspectors left the country, North Korea raised the stakes in its standoff with the United States Tuesday, stating that war was likely but that invading American troops would be wiped out "to the last man."
South of the DMZ, both South Korea's president and president-elect urged negotiations to ease the deepening crisis over Pyongyang's resumed nuclear program, and said economic sanctions being considered by Washington might not work.
In Moscow, North Korea's ambassador to Russia said that the U.S. had threatened his country "with a pre-emptive nuclear strike," the Interfax news agency reported.
"These conditions also make it impossible for us to abide by the [nuclear nonproliferation] treaty," Ambassador Pak Ui Chun said, "whose main provision bans nuclear powers from using nuclear weapons against countries that do not have them."
Pyongyang's main newspaper was no less strident.
"The U.S. is stepping up preparations for a war against the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea], persistently turning aside the latter's constructive proposal for concluding a nonaggression treaty," said Rodong Sinmun. "If the enemy invades even an inch of the inviolable territory of the DPRK, the people's army and people of the DPRK will wipe out the aggressors to the last man."
"Inevitable is the confrontation with the imperialists as long as they do not abandon the aggressive and predatory nature," continued the article, as translated on the English language-section of the North's official Korean Central News Agency Web site. "So there is no other way than winning a victory by firmly struggling against the imperialists without the slightest concession and hesitation."
Meanwhile, the international community's attempt to monitor North Korea's nuclear ambitions ended with a whimper, as the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, a Lebanese man and a Chinese woman, flew into in Beijing Tuesday.
"We cannot comment on anything at this stage," the man said, mobbed by reporters at Beijing's Capital Airport.
An IAEA official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one inspector would stay on in Beijing for a few days but the other was expected to return to IAEA headquarters in Vienna on Wednesday.
The IAEA conducts nuclear inspections on behalf of the U.N. worldwide, including in Iraq. Pyongyang ordered the expulsion of the two monitors on Friday.
"We were the eyes of the world," said IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming in Vienna Tuesday. "Now we virtually have no possibility to monitor North Korea's nuclear activities nor to provide any assurances to the international community that they are not producing a nuclear weapon."
Fleming said the expulsions left the agency reliant on satellite imagery.
"It's a position this agency does not like to be in," she said. "We need to be on the ground at the facilities directly, in order to be in a position to verify a given country's nuclear declaration."
Meanwhile, U.S. officials said they were considering using heavy economic pressure on the communist North to give up its nuclear ambitions. North Korea blames Washington for raising tensions over its nuclear issue.
South Korea's President-elect Roh Moo-hyun raised doubts about whether economic sanctions might work. He worried they could backfire and trigger armed conflicts on the world's last Cold War frontier. More than two million troops are massed on both sides of the Korean border.
"I am skeptical whether so-called 'tailored containment' reportedly being considered by the United States is an effective means to control or impose a surrender on North Korea," Roh told reporters.
Roh, who begins a five-year term in February, supports outgoing President Kim Dae-jung's "sunshine" policy of engaging North Korea. They believe that dialogue is the only viable way to resolve the North's nuclear issue peacefully.
Roh requested that the United States consult South Korea, a close ally, before formulating a new approach in its policy toward North Korea.
"Success or failure of a U.S. policy toward North Korea isn't too big a deal to the American people, but it is a life-or-death matter for South Koreans," he told reporters. "Therefore, any U.S. move should fully consider South Korea's opinion."
The outgoing president, Kim, stressed the importance of a strong alliance between South Korea and the United States in dealing with the nuclear issue, said his spokeswoman, Park Sun-sook.
"The United States is by far the most important ally for us," the spokesman quoted Kim as saying at a dinner meeting with Cabinet members Monday night. He added that pressure on North Korea would not necessarily work against reclusive North Korea.
About 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against the North.
South Korean officials are alarmed at signs that North Korea may withdraw from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, a move that would drastically escalate the nuclear crisis.
On Tuesday, Fleming said the Vienna-based nuclear agency had heard of such concerns but that as of noon Tuesday, North Korea had not declared to the IAEA that it was abandoning the treaty.
In recent weeks, North Korea removed monitoring seals and cameras from its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon that were frozen under a deal with the United States in 1994.
North Korea says that it is willing resolve concerns over its nuclear program if the United States signs a nonaggression treaty. Washington rules out any talks before the North changes course.
South Korea's Assistant Foreign Minister Lee Tae-shik plans to visit Beijing on Thursday to solicit Chinese help. South Korea also plans to dispatch a delegation to Russia but no date has been set.
Russia and China are among the few countries in the world which maintain friendly ties with North Korea.
The Koreas were divided in 1945. The 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice agreement, not in a peace treaty, meaning the North and South are technically still at war.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.