AFP - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned North Korea on Friday to stop its provocative acts, saying its "war of words" with the South would not help it forge a new relationship with Washington.
Clinton, who suggested the North's bellicose rhetoric stems from a possible power struggle, told reporters in Seoul that any threatened missile launch by the communist state would be in breach of UN resolutions.
On her first foreign trip as the chief US diplomat, she also named Stephen Bosworth to oversee Washington's North Korea policy -- a new high-level post designed to press Pyongyang on nuclear disarmament and human rights.
Speaking in a tougher tone than usual after talking with her South Korean counterpart Yu Myung-Hwan, Clinton urged the North to live up to commitments under a six-nation pact and dismantle its nuclear weapons programme.
She said the development of democracy and prosperity in South Korea was "in stark contrast to the tyranny and poverty across the border to the North."
She praised Seoul's resolve and determination "in face of the provocative and unhelpful statements and actions by the North."
"North Korea is not going to get a different relationship with the United States while insulting and refusing dialogue with the Republic of Korea," she said, using the official name for the South.
Analysts suspect Pyongyang is taking a tougher stance as it competes for US President Barack Obama's attention with other world hot spots.
"We are calling on the government of North Korea to refrain from being provocative and unhelpful in a war of words that it has been engaged in, because that is not very fruitful," Clinton added.
She has been unusually candid on her trip here in suggesting the North is playing hard amid a possible struggle to succeed leader Kim Jong-Il, who is widely believed to have suffered a stroke last August.
"When you are thinking about the future dealings with a government that doesn't have a clear succession... there is something there to think about," she said.
"But we are dealing with the government that exists right now. That government is being asked to re-engage with the six-party talks to fulfill the obligations they agreed to. We expect them to do so."
Clinton reportedly said Washington has no plans yet for top-level contact with North Korea, despite Obama's stated willingness to talk to US enemies on certain conditions.
"I have no intention or plan (to meet Kim)," Yonhap news agency quoted her telling local media later.
"It is not something we are even contemplating."
North Korea carried out its first nuclear test in October 2006. It later agreed to disable its atomic programme in return for energy aid and diplomatic concessions.
However the six-nation talks, which group the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, have been stalled since December amid arguments over how to verify denuclearisation.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen sharply in the past year, with Pyongyang taking an increasingly belligerent stance toward the conservative government in Seoul.
It is angry with South Korea's President Lee Myung-Bak, who has rolled back his predecessors' policy of largely unconditional aid and engagement with the North.
North Korea has cancelled all peace accords with the South, including one recognising the sea border as an interim frontier.
Seoul warned Friday that it would target North Korean launch sites if its ships came under missile attack in the Yellow Sea, a day after the North said an armed clash could break out at any time.
It has also warned that Pyongyang is preparing to test its longest-range missile, the Taepodong-2 -- theoretically capable of reaching Alaska.
Clinton started her day with a briefing from General Walter Sharp, the US military commander in South Korea.
At a lunch with President Lee, she described the two countries' decades-old military alliance as "unshakeable," according to Lee's spokesman.
Lee told her it was possible the North would give up its nuclear ambitions if other nations continue to press it through the six-party talks.