The U.N. nuclear watchdog is likely to refer the dispute with North Korea to the U.N. Security Council this week, a U.S. envoy said Wednesday.

U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said an international consensus was emerging on the nuclear issue and that he expected the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency to pass a resolution soon.

"It's not a question of if it goes before the Security Council, it's only a matter of time," Bolton said. "We hope it will get there by the end of this week."

Bolton said South Korean officials had agreed that the dispute over North Korea's nuclear activities should be handled by the Security Council. The council could impose economic sanctions against North Korea, though Pyongyang has said such a move would amount to a declaration of war.

"We reached an agreement that it would be appropriate for the IAEA board of governors to pass its third resolution on the subject and refer the matter to the Security Council, and I would think that would happen in the very near future," Bolton said. "We are glad that the United States and the Republic of Korea see the matter the same way."

Bolton said he expected Russia would go along with the plan, and that Chinese officials did not object. Britain and France, the other two permanent members of the Security Council, were also expected to approve the plan, he said.

"We see a consensus emerging," he said.

Meanwhile, North Korea said Wednesday it has no plans to make nuclear weapons and repeated its position that the nuclear crisis can be resolved through dialogue with the United States, South Korean officials said following a Cabinet-level meeting with their northern counterparts.

"We made it clear that inter-Korean relations could be hurt unless the nuclear issue is not resolved promptly," South Korean delegate Rhee Bong-jo said after hour-long talks with North Korean officials. "North Korea stressed that it has no intention of making nuclear weapons."

The talks, along with three other sets of inter-Korean meetings this week, continue contacts started by a North-South summit in June 2000. They are the highest-level regular contacts between the two countries.

South Korea's chief delegate, Jeong Se-hyun, demanded in a speech that the North freeze its nuclear facilities and reverse its decision to quit the global nuclear nonproliferation treaty, Rhee told reporters.

The chief North Korean negotiator, Kim Ryong Song, said Pyongyang has no intention of making nuclear weapons and that the dispute can be resolved through dialogue, he said.

In a 10-page statement, Kim Ryong Song accused the United States of planning a "pre-emptive nuclear attack" on the North and urged South Korea to join the North in blocking what it called a U.S. plan to "subjugate the whole Korean nation."

Rhee said South Korea will continue to raise the issue during the remainder of the talks, which continue through Friday.

There were no more formal meetings scheduled for Wednesday, though informal contacts were expected. The North Koreans were to visit an amusement park in southern Seoul later in the day.

The North Koreans arrived in Seoul on Tuesday for the first Cabinet-level talks since October, hinting that they wanted to focus on inter-Korean reconciliation projects rather than the nuclear issue. "Let's ... concentrate on resolving internal issues," said Kim, the North Korean negotiator.

On Wednesday, Kim called for better cooperation with South Korea to prevent "self-destruction" of the Korean peninsula. It's North Korea's long-standing strategy to drive a wedge between South Korea and its key ally, the United States.

"The North and South should cooperate to avoid the threat of war at a time of acute confrontation surrounding the Korean peninsula, and to protect peace and stability of our nation," he said.

Tensions escalated in October when the United States said North Korea had admitted having a secret nuclear program in violation of a 1994 agreement. The United States and its allies suspended oil shipments to the North and Pyongyang responded by expelling U.N. inspectors and preparing to reactivate facilities from an older nuclear program.

On Wednesday, Japan's Yomiuri newspaper said the Japanese government was drawing up plans to evacuate its citizens from Seoul within 70 hours in case of a North Korean attack. The Japanese foreign ministry refused to comment on the report.