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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 97 (March 11, 2010)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

N. Korea Blasts S. Korea-U.S. Drill, Vows to Build up Nuclear Deterrence

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- For the past few days, North Korea has harshly blasted South Korea and the United States for their regular joint military exercise which began March 8 for a 10-day duration. The North's military has placed its 1.2 million troops in a combat-ready posture in response to the start of the war games, while its foreign ministry issued a stern warning that it will bolster its nuclear deterrent if the U.S. threat remains on the Korean Peninsula.

   On March 7, the eve of the start of the military drill, the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA) blasted South Korea and the U.S. for their regular joint military drill, saying its denuclearization process and all military dialogue with the South will be suspended as long as the drill lasts.

   The North considers the annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises by South Korea and the U.S. as a prelude to a nuclear attack on its soil. The drill mobilizes tens of thousands of troops from both sides.

   "The U.S. and the South Korean authorities finally set about the DPRK-targeted Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military maneuvers," an unidentified spokesman for the North's military mission to the joint security area of Panmunjom said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of (North) Korea.

   "The maneuvers clearly indicate once again that the U.S. and the South Korean authorities are the harassers of peace and warmongers keen to bring a war to this land," the spokesman said in a statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   The statement claimed the joint exercise effectively scrapped the Korean armistice and the non-aggression agreement between the divided Koreas, leaving no reason for the North to be bound by either. "The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will, therefore, legitimately exercise their force for self-defense, unhindered, just as they had determined to do," it said.

   Officials at South Korea's defense ministry noted Pyongyang has often threatened to take military measures against the joint exercise, but said there have not yet been any unusual movements detected. "They have mostly been rhetorical threats, but we are making full preparations for any possibility," a ministry official said, asking not to be identified.

   A government official also noted the North will not likely take any provocative measures that might further damage its relations with the South or the U.S., especially as it wants to resume dialogue with the international community to end its isolation and economic difficulties. "It will not be easy (for the North) to take any measures that might seriously undermine inter-Korean relations when efforts to resume the six-party talks are underway," the official said.

   This year's war games also come amid a flurry of diplomacy aimed at bringing North Korea back to six-party talks on its nuclear ambitions.

   North Korea has been staying away from the six-nation talks on ending its nuclear weapons programs since December 2008, while in recent days it said it will not return to the talks until the start of discussions for a peace treaty and the removal of U.N. sanctions imposed on it after its second nuclear test last year. The talks involve both South and North Korea, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia.

   The North Korean spokesman said this year's exercise will put a halt to the North's denuclearization efforts, as well as any dialogue between the North and the South or the U.S. "The process for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will naturally come to a standstill and the DPRK (will) bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defense given that the saber-rattling is proven to be nuclear war exercises and maneuvers for a war of aggression against the DPRK in its nature," the statement said. "All DPRK-U.S. and the inter-Korean military dialogues will be suspended as long as the DPRK-targeted war exercises go on," it added.

   On March 8, the day the military exercises started, North Korea said it placed its 1.2 million troops in a combat-ready posture in response to the joint military drill. The KPA said in a statement it has ordered its troops to be ready to deter its enemies if they intrude into the country by "even 0.001mm."

   The KPA forces "should keep themselves fully ready to go into action in order to blow up the citadel of aggressors," the statement released through the KCNA said. The troops should "keep themselves highly alerted to mercilessly crush the aggressors," it said.

   The March 8-18 exercise mobilizes U.S. troops abroad in addition to those stationed in South Korea. Seoul and Washington say the drill is purely defensive, and no clash has occurred during past exercises.

   Despite the angry reaction, North Korea has shown no signs of unusual military movement, the South's defense ministry said, adding more than 20,000 South Korean troops are involved in the drill.

   South Korea's Unification Ministry said the North imposed no restrictions on inter-Korean border traffic, with South Korean vehicles crossing the heavily fortified boundary to a joint factory park in the border town of Kaesong without trouble.

   North Korea cut off border crossings to Kaesong in protest three separate times during the U.S.-South Korea exercise last year. The complex, one of the last remaining symbols of reconciliation efforts between South and North Korea, has been running since 2004.

   The joint drill takes place as North Korea continues to refrain from identifying four South Koreans that it says illegally entered the country. In late January, North Korea raised tensions with the South by firing artillery shells into waters near their border, prompting warning shots from South Korea.

   On March 9, the North's foreign ministry said it is ready for both dialogue and war, vowing to enlarge its nuclear arsenal to counter what it calls U.S. "military threats and provocations" against the communist nation.

   "The DPRK is fully ready for dialogue and war. It will continue bolstering up its nuclear deterrent as long as the U.S. military threats and provocations go on," an unidentified foreign ministry spokesman said, according to the KCNA.

   The North said the launch of the exercise "cannot be interpreted otherwise than a grave provocation," and reiterated the need to forge a peace treaty to defuse tension on the Korean Peninsula.

   "Without a peace treaty it is impossible to defuse the military confrontation on the Korean Peninsula," it said, adding efforts toward its denuclearization will also remain in limbo. The exercise by the South and the U.S. "is an act of chilling the efforts to realize the denuclearization of the peninsula," it said.