Wed, Mar 16, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Pyongyang blasts drills

AP , SEOUL

North Korea yesterday denounced joint military drills planned this week by the US and South Korea as preparations for an invasion of the North, and said it would beef up its nuclear arsenal to deter such an attack.

Pyongyang "will take necessary countermeasures including the bolstering of its nuclear arsenal to cope with the extremely hostile attempt of the US to bring down the system" in North Korea, a spokesman for the country's Foreign Ministry told its official Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea's "nuclear weapons serve as [a] powerful deterrent to keep the equilibrium of forces in the region, avert a new war and ensure peace," the unnamed spokesman said.

The US-South Korean exercises, which start Saturday, come amid a standoff over the communist North's nuclear weapons program.

"The exercises will be nuclear war exercises aimed to invade the North to all intents and purposes in view of their nature, scope and contents," the spokesman said.

The US and its allies have urged Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions and return to stalled international nuclear talks. The North said Feb. 10 that it would boycott the negotiations and claimed it had nuclear weapons, escalating tension in the two-year-old crisis.

Yesterday, South Korea said Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung will make a four-day visit to China late this month to seek ways of resolving the nuclear dispute. In Beijing, Yoon will hold talks with senior Chinese military officials, including Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan (曹剛川), his office said in a statement.

The North Korean spokesman repeated demands yesterday that Washington show "trustworthy sincerity" for it to return to the negotiations.

"We have already clarified our principled stand that we would seek a negotiated peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue ... and go out for the six-party talks to be resumed after their deadlock if conditions are premature," he said.

On Monday, the US aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk arrived in South Korea's port city of Busan to take part in this week's drills that involve land, sea and air forces. US military officials have said the drills are aimed at improving the ability of US and South Korean forces to defend the South against "external aggression."

The US has about 33,000 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950 to 1953 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, leaving the two Koreas technically still at war.

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