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North Korea Fires More Rockets; Says U.S. Hostile

South Korean boys wearing masks listen to a government official explaining the effect of a nuclear bomb blast over the sky in a simulation room in Seoul.

South Korean boys wearing masks listen to a government official explaining the effect of a nuclear bomb blast over the sky in a simulation room in Seoul.

SEOUL (Reuters) -- North Korea, defiant in the face of international condemnation of its latest nuclear test, has fired two short-range missiles off its east coast and accused the United States of plotting against its government.

In a move certain to compound tensions in the region, South Korea said it would join a U.S.-led initiative to intercept ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction, something Pyongyang has warned it would consider a declaration of war.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted a government source in Seoul as saying the North had test-fired one surface-to-air and one surface-to-ship missile off its east coast. The missiles had a range of about 130 kilometers.

North Korea fired off three short-range missiles on May 25.

The nuclear test the same day, the North's second after one in 2006, drew sharp rebuke from regional powers, and U.S. President Barack Obama called Pyongyang's atomic arms program a threat to international security.

The demonstrations of military might have also taken a toll on Seoul's jittery financial markets, worried about the impact of North Korea's growing belligerence in a region which accounts for a sixth of the global economy.

Underlining concerns over how far the North might be prepared to raise the stakes, Obama assured South Korean President Lee Myung-bak of Washington's unequivocal commitment to defense on the long-divided peninsula, where some 2 million troops face off.

There is little more Washington can do to deter the ostracized North, punished for years by international sanctions and so poor it relies on aid to feed its 23 million people.

Analysts say the latest military grandstanding is also aimed at bolstering leader Kim Jong Il's steel grip on power at home so he can better engineer his succession -- with many speculating he wants his third son to take over.

The nuclear test is also bound to raise concerns about proliferation, a major worry of the United States which has in the past accused Pyongyang of trying try to sell its nuclear know-how to states such as Syria. Some analysts say it also has close military ties with Iran.

The UN Security Council condemned the nuclear test and is working on a new resolution.

Interfax news agency in Moscow quoted a Russian Foreign Ministry source as saying the adoption of a tough resolution was probably unavoidable because the Security Council's authority was at stake.

But analysts say North Korea's giant neighbor China, one of five permanent members of the council, is unlikely to support anything tough.

For China, the more immediate risk may be serious rupture inside the impoverished state, which could spark a flood of North Korean refugees across its border.

Beijing is also believed to want to bring Pyongyang back to long-running talks with regional powers to make it give up ambitions to be a nuclear-weapons power in return for massive aid and an end to its years as a pariah state.

However, analysts say North Korea, which now spurns those talks, looks set on wanting a place at the table of nuclear-armed states and the leverage that will bring it with Washington.

Brushing aside the latest international condemnation, Pyongyang said the United States was the aggressive one, its long-held argument to justify having a nuclear arsenal.

"The U.S. would be well advised to halt at once its dangerous military moves against the DPRK [North Korea] if it wants to escape the lot of a tiger moth, bearing deep in mind that any attempt to make a preemptive attack on the DPRK is little short of inviting a disaster itself," the North's KCNA news agency said.