SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea warned Sunday of "nuclear disasters" around the world if Washington attacks the communist state, while its civilian leaders urged greater cooperation between Pyongyang and Seoul to ease the crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
The North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper accused the Central Intelligence Agency of preparing a surprise attack on the nation's nuclear facilities that are suspected of being used to make atomic bombs.
"If the U.S. imperialists ignite a war on the Korean Peninsula, the war will turn into a nuclear war," Rodong said. "As a consequence, the Koreans in the north and south and the people in Asia and the rest of the world will suffer horrifying nuclear disasters."
The report, carried by the North's state-run KCNA news agency, claimed that Washington put its forces around the peninsula on "semi-war footing" and "is pushing ahead with nuclear war preparations in full swing."
Pyongyang accuses Washington of inciting the nuclear standoff as a pretext for an invasion. Washington has repeatedly said it has no plans to attack North Korea, but stresses that "all options are on the table."
In Seoul on Sunday, North Korea's religious and civic leaders urged greater cooperation between the two Koreas to prevent war during joint inter-Korean religious masses.
"Preventing war through national cooperation is the most urgent task of the nation," said Ri Mun Hwan, a senior North Korean delegate. "If war breaks out, the South cannot be safe and the entire nation will face disaster."
Another delegate, Oh Kyung Woo, said the "United States is threatening a nuclear war, but if war breaks out both South and North will incur damages," according to South Korea's national Yonhap news agency.
"Foreign forces will never give us reunification. We must cooperate with each other," Oh was quoted as saying.
The comments were made during religious masses at a cathedral, a church, a Buddhist temple and other religious locations, which were attended by thousands of South Koreans.
The ceremonies were a part of an inter-Korean festival to mark the anniversary of a major independence uprising against Japanese colonial rule on March 1, 1919.
Pyongyang sent 105 delegates to Seoul on Saturday for the three-day festival. Both Koreas mark the uprising as a major holiday. Japan ruled the peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
Rodong, monitored by South Korea's national Yonhap news agency, reiterated that the North's nuclear activities were "strictly for peaceful purposes and poses no threat to anyone."
"Crushing the U.S. plot to attack North Korea is a very important issue related to peace and safety of Asia and the world, the existence and future of mankind," Rodong said.
Raising tensions last week, North Korea test-fired a missile into the sea off its east coast. Pyongyang also reactivated a 5-megawatt reactor that could produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, U.S. and South Korean officials said.
On Saturday, North Korea said nuclear war could break out on the peninsula at "any moment," after South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun warned of a "calamity" unless the standoff is resolved peacefully and quickly.
The dispute flared in October when Washington said North Korea had admitted pursuing a nuclear program, which violated a 1994 pact.
Washington and its allies cut off oil shipments to the impoverished communist state. The North responded by saying it would reactivate its frozen facilities. It also expelled U.N. monitors and withdrew from the global Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.