N. Korea denounces US-led naval drill as "prelude to nuclear war"
SEOUL (AFP) Sep 16, 2003
North Korea on Tuesday denounced a US-led multi-national naval drill held off Australia to stop trade in banned weaponry as "a prelude to a nuclear war" targeting the communist state.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Pyongyang's official mouthpiece, warned Pyongyang would "further increase its nuclear deterrent force" to cope with what it called the US blockade strategy.

The United States, Japan, Australia and France conducted the maneuvres featuring a simulated seizure of a vessel carrying weapons in the Coral Sea off Australia's east coast over the weekend in a veiled warning to North Korea.

"This is a wanton violation of the sovereignty of the DPRK (North Korea) and intolerable military provocations as it was a prelude to a nuclear war," KCNA said in a commentary monitored here,

"The US is putting its international blockade strategy into practice."

The naval exercise, dubbed "Pacific Protector," was the first of 10 air, ground and sea drills to be launched by the 11-nation proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a US-led grouping set up earlier this year to stem the illicit trade in the weapons of mass destructions.

KCNA accused Washington of disregarding North Korea's warning that the four-nation naval drill "may chill the atmosphere of the talks" aimed at easing tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

"(Washington) staged the military exercises only to prove that it has no intention to seek a peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue between the DPRK and the US," KCNA said.

It said North Korea would take "merciless retaliatory measures by mobilizing all its military potentials the moment the US imposes any sanctions or conducts naval and air blockade" against the communist country.

The United States and North Korean has been locked in a stand-off over Pyongyang's suspected nuclear weapons development.

Senior officials from the United States, China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas met in Beijing from August 27-29 to explore ways to settle a prolonged crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

But the talks ended without a tangible agreement with the delegates agreeing to meet again but failing to fix a date for the next round.

North Korea has termed the first round as "useless" accusing the United States of refusing to soften its "hostile" policy towards Pyongyang.

The crisis erupted in October last year when the United States accused North Korea of reneging on a 1994 nuclear safeguard accord by running a secret uranium enrichment program.