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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea on Friday launched a stealth warship capable of spying on North Korea Friday, while the communist state's leader called proposed U.N. nuclear inspections a "sinister design" by Washington to find an excuse for war.
In the past few days, North Korea has increased its anti-U.S. rhetoric in anticipation of the Bush administration shifting its attention to North Korea following its inevitable victory in the war in Iraq.
Tensions were underscored Friday as South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun attended the launch of a new stealth warship capable of electronic spying on North Korea.
The United States had hoped its key ally, South Korea, could convince Pyongyang to allow in U.N. inspectors and scrap nuclear facilities.
North Korea accused the United States of "plotting to apply the pattern in Iraq to us ... by demanding (nuclear) inspections to find an excuse for invasion." The North said that it will never give up its suspected nuclear weapons programs.
"Allowing inspections and disarming ourselves are like taking off our pants," said Pyongyang's state-run Central TV, which was monitored by South Korean Yonhap news agency. "The United States' sinister design is not in inspections themselves but in using them to spread rumors of weapons of mass destruction and find an excuse for armed intervention."
North Korea's KCNA news agency reported that the state's leader Kim Jong Il inspected Flying Unit 887 on Thursday to brief pilots and noted that the pilots "are fully prepared to courageously beat back the enemy any time." It did not say where the air base was located.
In Moscow, the Russian government has ordered officials to work out plans to defend Russians and their interests on the country's Far East territories bordering the Korean Peninsula should the crisis spin out of control, a top diplomat said Friday.
"As a result of the positions of the United States and North Korea, which do not permit the start of negotiations, unfortunately the situation on the Korean Peninsula continues to sharpen and is approaching a point beyond which could lie an uncontrollable reaction," Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov was quoted as telling the Interfax news agency.
In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Russia's visiting Russian Defense Minster Sergei Ivanov agreed Friday to seek a diplomatic solution, Japanese officials said.
South Korea, meanwhile, continued to take measures to guard against North Korea.
Its new radar-evading ship launched Friday is equipped for electronic monitoring as well as anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare, navy officials said. The 450-feet-long warship is South Korea's most advanced. The country already has an unspecified number of stealth warships.
Washington has accused the North of having a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 pact. President Bush says he wants to solve the problem peacefully, but he has not ruled out a military solution.
On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council refused to act on a U.S. request to condemn North Korea for pulling out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty because of strong opposition from China and Russia.
North Korea insists on direct talks with Washington over the nuclear dispute. Washington wants the problem to be addressed in a multilateral forum including Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.
In Beijing, visiting South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan said after meeting senior Chinese officials that he was "cautiously optimistic" the crisis can be resolved peacefully.
South Korea has been urging Beijing, a major ally of Pyongyang, to help persuade North Korean leaders to join multilateral talks.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)