North Korea Warns of Retaliation if Drills Go Forward

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - A day after warning Washington against
launching military exercises on South Korean soil, North Korea
focused its rhetoric Thursday on its neighbor and warned of
"powerful" retaliation if Seoul goes ahead with joint drills next
week.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries are slated to begin 12 days
of exercises at sites across South Korea on Monday - a joint annual
effort the allies call routine defensive drills but that the North
has condemned as preparations for an attack.

The rise in rhetoric from Pyongyang comes amid mounting regional
concerns that Pyongyang will test-fire a long-range missile capable
of reaching Alaska. Analysts say North Korea may use the launch as
a bargaining chip in talks with Washington and four other nations
seeking to disarm the regime of its nuclear program.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama's new U.S. envoy on North
Korea warned the communist North against conducting a missile test.

Stephen W. Bosworth, speaking in China before heading for Japan,
said Beijing and Washington were united in opposition to
Pyongyang's alleged missile launch plan, saying, "We both believe
it would not be a good idea to have a missile launch."

The North maintains it plans to send a communications satellite
into orbit as part of its space program. But neighboring nations
believe it intends to test a long-range missile, a launch that
utilizes a similar delivery system as a satellite.

The North is banned from engaging in any ballistic activity
under a U.N. Security Council resolution passed in 2006 after the
regime conducted an underground nuclear test and unsuccessfully
test-fired a long-range missile.

South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said Wednesday
"preparations are progressing" at the launch site in North Korea
but he said the launch did not appear imminent.

Analysts say North Korea is trying to grab Obama's attention
with the threat of a missile at a time when the disarmament-for-aid
pact signed in 2007 remains on hold and Pyongyang's ties with Seoul
are at their lowest point in a decade.

After warning the U.S. against staging any attack on the North,
the North promised Thursday that it will retaliate against "South
Korean warmongers" if they go ahead with a rehearsal to invade the
north.

"The Lee group's increased war hysteria for aggression against
(North Korea) will only invite merciless and powerful retaliatory
actions of the army and people of (North Korea)," the state-run
Minju Joson newspaper said in a commentary carried Thursday by the
official Korean Central News Agency.

Pyongyang routinely accuses South Korea and the U.S., allies in
the 1950-53 Korean War against the communist North, of plotting an
attack. The U.S. military has some 28,500 troops in South Korea to
help monitor a 1953 cease-fire brokered by the United Nations.

Earlier this week, North Korean generals summoned high-ranking
U.S. military officials representing the U.N. Command to the
Demilitarized Zone for their first talks in nearly seven years,
reportedly demanding that the allies abandon the joint exercises.

The two sides will meet again Friday for talks, a South Korean
Defense Ministry official said.


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