North Korea says US using talks to prepare for war ahead of drills
SEOUL (AFP) Mar 09, 2004
North Korea accused the United States on Tuesday of preparing for "a new war behind the curtain of talks" as Seoul and Washington set in motion plans for joint military exercises later this month.

US and South Korean authorities said earlier Tuesday they would stage a week-long joint military drill from March 22, that would include the 37,000 US troops based in South Korea reinforced by 5,000 from the US mainland and other Asia-Pacific bases as well as South Korean military contingents.

North Korea's official media, stepping up anti-US rhetoric following inconclusive six-party talks in Beijing late last month, demanded an end to the US war "rackets" and the complete withdrawal of US troops from the Korean peninsula.

Rodong Sinmun, the North's communist party newspaper, denounced US hardliners for preparing "a new war behind the curtain of talks."

"The United States is ... reorganizing and redeploying its aggression forces around the Korean peninsula," Rodong said in a commentary, referring to a plan to realign US troops in South Korea. "All this is for a large war."

"If the US is truly interested in dialogue and the settlement of the nuclear issue, it should stop the military rackets against the DPRK (North Korea)."

The six-way talks held in Beijing last month to ease the nuclear standoff failed to resolve differences over the core US demand for the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear programs.

North Korea has offered to freeze its nuclear weapons drive in return for rewards and may add a new counter-demand that all 37,000 US troops quit the Korean peninsula, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The pullout has been a consistent North Korean demand since the 1950-1953 Korean War.

North Korea "cannot but demand (the United States) guarantee a complete, verifiable and irreversible security the core of which is the total withdrawal of the US troops from South Korea and the eternal abandonment of its hostile policy toward the DPRK," KCNA said.

The upcoming joint US-South Korean war games will include the deployment of an aircraft carrier.

"This is an annual combined joint exercise involving the South Korea-US Combined Forces Command (CFC)," CFC spokesman Kim Yong-Kyu told AFP.

The joint training is aimed at strengthening the teamwork of US and South Korean troops, he said. It was unclear how many South Korean troops would take part.

Yonhap news agency said US aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, based in Yokosuka, Japan, would head to South Korea along with cruisers and destroyers.

The CFC said the joint military drill, where two annual exercises of Foal Eagle and RSOI (Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration) merge, is largely aimed at defending South Korea from outside threats.

South Korea and US forces have conducted Foal Eagle focusing on anti-commando operations since 1964 and RSOI featuring a simulated computer war game since 1994.

The two exercises have been held at the same time since 2002.