Regime again calls for a halt to military drills

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Regime again calls for a halt to military drills

Amid the South Korean government’s efforts to arrange an inter-Korean dialogue, North Korea renewed its demand Sunday that Seoul must halt its joint military drills with the United States before it would come to the table.

“Unless the South and the United States stop their nuclear war games aimed at a northward invasion, it is clear that no talks between the two Koreas or between North Korea and the United States can progress,” the North said in a report published Sunday in the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the country’s Workers’ Party.

“If the United States stops its joint military drills with the South this year, as we have proposed, inter-Korean talks will progress smoothly and a dramatic breakthrough will be seen to guarantee peace and security of not only the Korean Peninsula but also Northeast Asia.”

North Korea further cited that a joint military operation had been halted before at its request.

“In the 1990s, the Team Spirit exercise, a nuclear war game, was canceled based on our proper demand,” the North said.

Team Spirit was an annual joint military exercise held between the United States and the South since 1976. The last session took place in 1993.

From 1994 to 1996, the two countries scheduled the exercise each year but canceled it as part of a diplomatic effort to persuade the North to dismantle its nuclear arms programs.

The joint military exercise between the United States and the South has now been renamed Key Resolve, and this year’s drills - Key Resolve and Foal Eagle - are schedule to take place in March.

Sunday’s article was the latest in the North’s series of demands that the joint military drill be stopped. The North said last week that it is willing to suspend nuclear tests if the United States agreed to cancel the annual military drills.

Washington, however, rejected the proposal.

The offer was reiterated once again on Friday by North Korean Ambassador to the United Kingdom Hyon Hak-bong.

Pyongyang’s call to suspend the military drills came amid an increasing effort by Seoul to actualize inter-Korean talks by accommodating some of North Korea’s earlier complaints.

The Ministry of Unification said it has asked a high-profile activist to reconsider his plan to send copies of “The Interview,” a satirical Hollywood film that depicts an assassination attempt against the North’s leader Kim Jong-un, into North Korea.

Earlier this month, North Korea issued a death threat against Park Sang-hak, a defector turned activist who heads the Fighters for a Free North Korea, after he announced his intention.

“When contacting Park [on Thursday], we explained that his sending of leaflets critical of Pyongyang had threatened the safety of residents near the inter-Korean border,” ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said Friday. “We also explained to him that his activities could worsen conflicts inside our society and asked him to make a wise decision.”

According to Lim, Park did not give a specific answer during the meeting.

When he announced his plan to distribute the movies, Park said he would start launching balloons carrying DVDs and USB memory sticks containing the film on Jan. 20, unless the South Korean government made an official request for him to stop.

Lim added that the government’s proposal to the North that reunions for families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War be held in time with the Lunar New Year in February remains effective, and urged Pyongyang to respond to the offer.

Noting that there is not enough time to prepare for reunions, experts have urged Seoul to propose a Red Cross meeting to the North as soon as possible.

Selecting who will be reunited, confirming the whereabouts of their loved ones and arranging the meeting venue takes at least four weeks, experts and the government have said.

This year’s Lunar New Year falls on Feb. 19.

However, Lim said Friday that the government has no plan to make another proposal to North Korea to arrange reunions, as South Korea had already expressed its intention.

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