North Korea informed South Korea yesterday that it will delay high-level talks between the two Koreas scheduled this month because of an upcoming South Korea-US joint military exercise, the North's official news agency said.
"Our position is that hostile war exercise cannot go side by side with peaceful dialogue," the North's Cabinet counselor, Kwon Ho-ung, said in a telephone message to his South Korean counterpart carried by the Korean Central News Agency.
Kwon, who served as the North's chief negotiator in inter-Korean Cabinet-level talks, said the military exercise cannot be justified and Seoul's "wrong behavior" made it impossible to hold the 18th round of the talks this month in Pyongyang as scheduled.
"Your side should be held responsible for causing delay in the first North-South high-level talks this year," Kwon said.
South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, was not immediately available for comment.
North Korea routinely condemns the annual joint military exercises as preparations for an invasion.
The exercises, dubbed RSOI and Foal Eagle, will involve 20,000 US troops and an undisclosed number of South Korean soldiers and will run for a week starting March 25, according to the US military command in Seoul.
About 29,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically at war.
The Cabinet-level talks are the highest-level regular dialogue channel between the two Koreas since a landmark inter-Korean summit in 2000, which touched off a set of exchanges and cross-border projects.
Meanwhile, North Korea vowed to step up its peaceful nuclear activities and urged the US to change its biased nuclear policy toward the communist country, the North's news agency said yesterday.