- North Korea says it is not interested in talking if the US remains hostile
- Statement warns of reaction to possible US military action
- US and South Korean warplanes conducted exercises on Wednesday
- Allies say exercises are needed to deter North Korea
SEOUL, Feb. 2 (Reuters) – North Korea’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that exercises by the United States and its allies have pushed the situation to an “extreme red line” and threaten to turn the peninsula into a “massive arsenal of war and a more critical war zone.”
The statement, issued by state news agency KCNA, said Pyongyang is not interested in dialogue as long as Washington pursues a hostile policy.
“The military and political situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region has reached an extreme limit as a result of the reckless military confrontation maneuvers and hostile actions by the US and its proxies,” an unnamed ministry spokesman said in the statement.
In Washington, the White House rejected the North Korean statement and reiterated its willingness to meet with North Korean diplomats “at a time and place convenient to them.”
“We have made it clear that we have no hostile intent towards the DPRK and are committed to serious and sustained diplomacy to address all issues of concern to both countries and the region,” said a White House National Security Council spokesman.
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The North Korean statement cited a visit to Seoul this week by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. On Tuesday, Austin and his South Korean counterpart pledged to expand military exercises and deploy more “strategic assets,” such as aircraft carriers and long-range bombers, to counter North Korea’s weapons development and prevent war.
“This is a vivid expression of the dangerous US scenario that will result in the Korean peninsula turning into a huge war arsenal and a more critical war zone,” the North Korean statement said.
North Korea will respond to any military moves by the United States and has strong counter-action strategies, including “the most overwhelming nuclear force” if necessary, the statement added.
Asked about tensions with North Korea during a stop in the Philippines on Thursday, Austin said the US’s goal is to promote greater security and stability, and that it remains committed to South Korea’s defense.
“We will continue to work with our allies and continue to train and ensure that we maintain credible and ready forces,” he said.
More than 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
“We reject the idea that our joint exercises with partners in the region serve as any form of provocation. These are routine exercises that are fully consistent with past practice,” the White House statement said.
Last year, North Korea conducted a record number of ballistic missile tests, which are banned by United Nations Security Council resolutions. It was also observed reopening its sealed nuclear weapons test site, raising expectations of a nuclear test for the first time since 2017.
In New York, South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin met with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday and called for continued UN attention to North’s recent provocations and attempts. Korea to impose sanctions on the withdrawn regime.
Guterres said any resumption of nuclear tests by North Korea would deal a devastating blow to regional and international security, reaffirming his support for building lasting peace on the Korean peninsula, Park’s office said.
Park is on a four-day trip to the United States, including a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on Friday.
On Wednesday, the United States and South Korea conducted a joint air exercise involving US B-1B heavy bombers and F-22 stealth fighters, as well as F-35 jets from both countries, according to the South Korean defense ministry.
“The combined air exercises this time demonstrate the will and capabilities of the US to provide a strong and credible comprehensive deterrence against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats,” the Defense Department said in a statement.
Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Soo-hyang Choi in Seoul, Steve Holland in Washington, and Karen Lema in Manila; Edited by Jonathan Oatis, Bill Berkrot and Gerry Doyle
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