SEOUL — North Korea warned Friday of retaliation if it is hauled before the UN Security Council over the sinking of a South Korean warship, as Seoul sought international backing for its campaign to punish its communist neighbour.
Tensions have soared on the Korean peninsula since a probe concluded last month that a North Korean torpedo sank the warship near the disputed sea border in March, prompting Seoul to announce a series of reprisals against Pyongyang.
The North -- which has warned of all-out war -- accused Washington and its allies of having "an ulterior motive" in wanting to refer the issue to the Security Council, and dismissed the probe results as "sheer fabrication".
"The US and the UNSC will find nothing to say about the toughest retaliation (North Korea) is to take as it did in the past," a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official media.
They will "never shrug off the responsibility for having blocked the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and sparked off a conflict," he said.
The hardline state has furiously denied involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan, which cost the lives of 46 sailors in the deadliest peacetime incident for South Korea since the end of the Korean war 60 years ago.
It has stalled efforts at trying to revive six-nation talks on ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons which have been on ice since Pyongyang walked out in April last year.
In Geneva, a North Korean diplomat told a conference on disarmament on Thursday that the cross-border tensions were running so high that war may break out "at any moment."
Ri Jang-Gon, the country's deputy permanent representative at the United Nations in Geneva, warned that Pyongyang was "ready to promptly react to... various forms of tough measures including an all-out war".
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, whose country has already retaliated with measures including a trade freeze against its impoverished neighbour, is visiting Singapore seeking to win international support for its stance.
Lee, whose government wants the Security Council to censure Pyongyang, will call at an Asian security forum in Singapore for close cooperation in "resolutely responding to North Korea's provocation", his office said.
Washington and Seoul are also expected to reach agreement at the forum on the need to review their joint defence posture to deter further aggression by the North, an unnamed South Korean official told the Yonhap news agency.
"The two sides are expected to share views that the North's attack on the Cheonan was clearly an act of invasion and a violation of the Korean War armistice," he said, referring to the truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korea and the United States have meanwhile delayed a joint anti-submarine drill which was due to be staged in a show of defiance against the North, officials said.
Seoul's Vice Foreign Minister Chun Young-Woo will make a formal request soon for a UN resolution to censure Pyongyang but will not press for sanctions, a diplomat said Thursday in Washington.
South Korea can count on the full support of the United States and other Western powers, but to secure adoption of the resolution, it must also enlist the backing of veto-wielding council members Russia and China.
Russia, which has said it needs "100 percent proof" of the North's involvement, has sent a team of naval experts to South Korea to review the findings of the probe.
At a three-way summit last week, China's Premier Wen Jiabao resisted pressure from Japan and South Korea to publicly support the UN move or to condemn the North.