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N. Korea leader rallies army commanders

HANS GREIMEL / AP | October 5 2006

South Korea - North Korean leader Kim Jong Il rallied hundreds of top military commanders as world powers pressed the United Nations to censure his government amid mounting concern the isolated communist regime was preparing its first nuclear test.

Japan's vice foreign minister said the test could come as early as this weekend, the anniversary of Kim's appointment as head of the Korean Workers' Party in 1997. Japan said it was stepping up monitoring of North Korea.

With tensions rising, North Korea's Kim met his top brass and urged them to bolster the nation's defenses, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said. Officers greeted him with rousing cheers of "Fight at the cost of our lives!"

North Korean state television aired still shots of the bouffant-haired leader waving to an assembled crowd of about 500 olive-suited officers in dress caps. Kim later posed for a group photo with his commanders in front of Pyongyang's sprawling mausoleum for his father and national founder, Kim Il Sung.

The meeting was the reclusive leader's first reported appearance in three weeks and the first since Tuesday, when his government shocked the world by announcing plans to test a nuclear device on its way to building an arsenal of atomic weapons.

It was unclear when the rally took place, or how many attended, but it could show that Kim is trying to polish his credentials with the country's cherished military at a time when international pressure is mounting on Pyongyang.

The KCNA dispatch made no mention of a nuclear test.

Kim's last reported public activity was when KCNA reported on Sept. 15 that he visited the scenic Diamond Mountain near the border with South Korea.

The North claims to have nuclear weapons, but hasn't performed any known test to prove that. Six-nation talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions have been stalled for almost a year, and North Korea says it needs an atomic arsenal to deter a possible attack from the United States.

Washington has repeatedly said it has no intention of invading North Korea.

Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi, currently in Washington, told the Japan's TV Asahi:

"Based on the development so far, it would be best to view that a test is possible this weekend."

Japan stepped up monitoring of North Korea.

"In consideration of various possibilities, we are preparing for whatever may happen," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said.

Japan has two intelligence-gathering satellites and launched a third in September that can monitor the North's nuclear weapons and missile programs.

On Thursday, a U.S. military plane capable of detecting radiation took off from Okinawa in southern Japan, thought to be a monitoring exercise in case North Korea carries out a test, according to media reports.

Overnight at the United Nations, Security Council experts reached agreement on a statement urging North Korea to cancel its planned nuclear test and return immediately to the six-nation talks. But the text needs final approval from council members.

Japan's U.N. Ambassador Kenzo Oshima said a statement "most likely" would be approved and read out on Friday morning after capitals give final approval.

The Japanese draft also urges North Korea to work toward implementation of a September 2005 agreement in which the North pledged to give up its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees. The six-party talks involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

North Korea has boycotted the six-nation talks since late last year, angered by American financial restrictions imposed over the North's alleged illegal activities such as money laundering and counterfeiting.

While all council members view the possibility of a North Korea test with alarm, there were different views on how to approach Pyongyang's announcement.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the United States wanted "a strong response" from the Security Council, not just "a piece of paper." But China, Russia and Japan indicated they wanted a more moderate initial response.


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