Wed, Aug 23, 2006 - Page 5 News List

N Korea slams annual US, S Korean military games

AP , SEOUL

North Korea lashed out yesterday at ongoing US-South Korean military drills and warned it could take retaliatory action amid renewed concern that the communist nation may be preparing to test a nuclear bomb.

The North's latest rhetorical salvo came after US President George W. Bush spoke on Monday with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) about how to persuade the North to return to deadlocked international talks on its nuclear weapons program.

The North has set the region on edge with its nuclear ambitions and stoked tensions further last month by test-firing seven missiles, drawing UN Security Council sanctions. But Pyongyang has still refused to return to the arms talks in anger over the US blacklisting a bank where the North held accounts for its complicity in alleged illegal activity, including counterfeiting US dollars.

Washington insists the financial issue is unrelated to the nuclear standoff -- a position Bush stuck to in his phone call with the Chinese leader.

"Counterfeiting US dollars is an issue that every president ought to be concerned about. When you catch people counterfeiting your money, you need to do something about it," Bush said.

The North's threats yesterday weren't new, but came after a news report last week citing US officials saying the country was making suspicious moves at a possible underground nuclear test site.

On Monday, the US and South Korea launched annual joint military exercises, which the North had previously said would be considered a declaration of war.

The North's military said yesterday it "would not be bound to the [armistice agreement] in taking on its own initiative military measures for protecting the security and sovereignty of the country in the future, considering the ongoing war maneuvers as a war action declaring the [armistice] null and void."

The North Korean military "reserves the right to undertake a pre-emptive action for self-defense against the enemy at a crucial time it deems necessary to defend itself," the North's army outpost at the truce village of Panmunjom said in the statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The US military has said the exercises -- which are mostly simulation-driven drills that run through Sept. 1 and include some 17,000 troops -- are defensive in nature and not a provocation.

The North also described the UN Security Council resolution adopted last month after its missile launches as tantamount to a declaration of war that the US pushed through "by wirepulling its followers."

The resolution, which bans UN members from missile-related dealings with the North.

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