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N. Korea says drills, sanctions add danger

S. Korea, US plan military exercises

By Margie Mason
Associated Press / July 23, 2010

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HANOI — North Korea warned the United States yesterday that imposing fresh sanctions and holding military drills with South Korea this weekend will endanger the entire region and destroy hopes for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

The remarks preceded an Asian security meeting in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, today, attended by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the top diplomats from both Koreas four months after the sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors. The North has been blamed but denies responsibility.

“If the US is really interested in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, it should halt the military exercises and sanctions that destroy the mood for dialogue,’’ North Korean spokesman Ri Tong Il told reporters on the sidelines of meetings yesterday.

Sanctions, he said, escalate the United States’ “hostile policy toward North Korea.’’

On Wednesday, Washington announced it would impose new sanctions aimed at stifling the North’s nuclear activities. Ri said any new sanctions would be in violation of a UN Security Council statement approved earlier this month that condemned the sinking but stopped short of directly assigning blame.

Regarding the naval drills the United States and South Korea plan this weekend, Ri said, “Such a move presents a grave threat to the peace and security not only to the Korean peninsula, but to the region.’’

He later said the North is willing to meet the United States and Japan on the sidelines of today’s security meeting if they request it, but no such proposals have come, Yonhap reported.

Seoul has said there will be no one-on-one meetings with the North until an apology is issued for the sinking. Clinton and representatives from all other parties in the stalled nuclear talks will be in Vietnam, but diplomats have said a meeting among them is unlikely.

In a sign of how tense relations are — and how difficult such meetings would be — Defense Secretary Robert Gates struck back yesterday at North Korea’s criticism of the military drills. “My response to that is that I condemn their sinking of the Cheonan,’’ Gates said to reporters in Jakarta.

South Korea has said the naval drills are defensive training exercises that do not violate the UN Security Council statement and that the sanctions are not to avenge the ship sinking but instead target illicit nuclear activities.

A South Korean foreign ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, accused North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun of using the meeting in Vietnam to look for friends.

“North Korea’s foreign minister has been very busy hanging out and trying to gain support,’’ the official said. “Many countries support South Korea’s position.’’

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said he was not surprised the North was upset, but that South Korea and the United States have the right to conduct military exercises.

“They can be angry on many things,’’ he told reporters in English. “If you Google North Korea every day, you find all kinds of angry words, and I’ll be in trouble if I follow my policy based on their state of emotion.’’

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