SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea's president ordered his top security officials Sunday to deal "resolutely and squarely" with new North Korean warnings of a nuclear war on the eve of his U.S. visit. In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden said "God only knows" what North Korea wants from the latest showdown.
President Lee Myung Bak travels to Washington today for talks with President Barack Obama that are expected to focus on the North's rogue nuclear and missile programs.
North Korea's Foreign Ministry threatened war with any country that stops its ships on the high seas under new sanctions approved by the U.N. Security Council in response to its May 25 nuclear test. It also vowed Saturday to "weaponize" all its plutonium and, for the first time, acknowledged a long-suspected uranium enrichment program. Plutonium and uranium are key ingredients of atomic bombs.
A commentary published Saturday in the North's state-run Tongil Sinbo weekly claimed the United States was deploying a vast number of nuclear weapons in South Korea and Japan.
Kim Yong Kyu, a spokesman at the U.S. military command in Seoul, denied the allegation, saying the United States no longer has nuclear bombs in South Korea. U.S. tactical nuclear weapons were removed in 1991 as part of arms reductions.
The Unification Ministry, responsible for ties with the North, issued a statement demanding that it stop inflaming tension and resume talks with the South.
"North Korea should give up its nuclear program … and stop any kind of military threat," it said. "We urge North Korea to respond in a sincere dialogue to improve South-North Korean relations."
The new U.N. sanctions approved Friday are aimed at depriving the North of the financing used for its nuclear program. They also authorize searches of North Korean ships suspected of transporting illicit ballistic missile and nuclear materials.
Biden told NBC's Meet the Press that it's crucial that the United States and other nations "make sure those sanctions stick."
North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, reportedly had a stroke 10 months ago, and analysts believe there might be a plan in place to name his inexperienced 26-year-old son, Kim Jong Un, as the future leader.
"God only knows what he wants," Biden said of Kim. "There's all kinds of discussions. Whether this is about succession, wanting his son to succeed him. Whether or not he's looking for respect. … We can't guess his motives."