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(LEAD) N. Korea hints at halting nuke tests for no S. Korea-U.S. drills

2015/01/10 20:26

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more details, background info)

SEOUL, Jan. 10 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Saturday that it will temporarily suspend nuclear tests if the United States halts its joint military exercises with South Korea this year.

The North's proposal was contained in a message delivered to United States Friday "through a relevant channel," the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in its English dispatch, monitored in Seoul.

"The message proposed the U.S. to contribute to easing tension on the Korean Peninsula by temporarily suspending joint military exercises in South Korea and its vicinity this year, and said that in this case the DPRK is ready to take such responsive step as temporarily suspending the nuclear test over which the U.S. is concerned," the report said.

The DPRK is the acronym of the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"The large-scale war games ceaselessly held every year in South Korea are the root cause of the escalating tension on the peninsula and the danger of nuclear war facing our nation," the North said, adding there "will be no reason why the U.S. cannot accept our proposal if the drills are targeted on the DPRK only."

   The North has called on the U.S. and South Korea to stop joint military drills, claiming that they are a rehearsal for a northward invasion. But the allies have vowed to continue the exercises, as they are defensive in nature.

Calling on the U.S. to stop pursuing "the anachronistic policy hostile" toward it and to make a policy switch, the communist country said it is "ready to sit with the U.S. anytime if the U.S. needs dialogue as regard to this issue."

   South Korea and the U.S. conduct several joint military exercises annually, starting with Key Resolve in late February that usually involves tens of thousands of troops from both sides. About 28,500 U.S. soldiers are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Pyongyang also holds a number of military exercises every year, according to South Korean and U.S. military officers.

Exactly how and to whom North Korea sent the message to the U.S. side were unknown. But the North's United Nations mission in New York has served as a channel for communications with Washington.

Describing its proposal as a "crucial step" aimed at removing the danger of war on the Korean Peninsula, the North also urged the U.S. "to make a bold decision for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia."

   There was no immediate responses from South Korea and the U.S. to the North's proposal.

North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests so far, with the latest and the most powerful one in 2013. It has also threatened to carry out "a new form" of underground detonation test.