North Korea intends to push the Iraq card to the limit in an increasingly dangerous tactical game the US would prefer to delay. President George W. Bush's campaign to convince the United Nations Security Council of the urgency for war against Iraq's leader Saddam Hussein is at a crucial stage. With a US-led attack potentially weeks away with or without UN approval, he can ill afford North Korea's distracting actions. The exasperation was evident on Monday in the angry reaction by American officials to North Korea's interception of a US spy plane in international air space. It was by no means the first or even most serious such incident in 53 years of animosity, but it was clearly annoying. North Korea's neighbours seemed less concerned, expressing none of the US outrage. It was as if they were getting different information. South Korean analyst Kim Tae-hyo said yesterday the incident was not serious and was part of an escalated strategy intended to deflect international attention from Iraq to the Korean peninsula. 'The North Korean reaction was quite natural,' the professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, a foreign ministry think-tank in Seoul, said. The incident, and the firing of a short-range missile into the Yellow Sea last week hours before South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun was sworn in, were meant to force the US into talks rather than threaten security. Northeast Asian nations, worried about regional stability, would pressure the US into opening talks with North Korea. The US would have little choice but to deal with North Korean weapons proliferation at the same time as planning war against Iraq. 'The next two to three weeks will be crucial for the US,' Dr Kim said. He predicted 'North Korea will push stronger the closer that war against Iraq seems likely'. Analysts agree that military conflict on the Korean peninsula is not an option given that North Korea may have secretly developed nuclear weapons. Dr Kim said South Koreans did not feel threatened by the North's recent actions. They believed the row was between North Korea and the US and did not wish to damage improved relations with the North. Fellow North Korea expert Paek Sung-too, of the Korea Institute of Defence Analysis, agreed. He said North Korea was no greater a threat to the South despite the increasing tension.