N. Korea slams U.S. for joint military drills with S. Korea

SEOUL, Jan. 19 (Yonhap) -- North Korea bashed the United States on Sunday for its plan to go ahead with its joint military exercises with South Korea despite Pyongyang's demand for cancellation last week, warning of "strong self-defense countermeasures."

The U.S. and South Korea are scheduled to hold command post exercise Key Resolve and joint field training exercise Foal Eagle from late February till the end of April to enhance joint combat readiness and deter threats from North Korea.

The allies say that the exercises, an annual event for several decades, are defensive in nature.

The North, calling them "a nuclear war rehearsal to pre-empt our republic," said in an article carried by its main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, that the U.S. "is bluntly posing a threat against us for pre-emptive attacks."

"If the U.S. wages a nuclear war, we cannot but take far stronger self-defense measures to protect our sovereignty and the dignity of the people," the North said, calling on Washington to make the "right choice."

Last week, North Korea proposed the two Koreas stop military provocations and mutual slandering to improve bilateral ties and demanded the cancellation of the upcoming joint exercises.

South Korea, however, flatly declined the proposal, questioning its sincerity. Seoul and Washington made it clear that they will carry out the exercises as planned.

Concerns remain high over the North's possible provocations amid its political uncertainties after its young leader Kim Jong-un executed his uncle and political mentor, Jang Song-thaek, last month.

Ahead of last year's joint drills with the U.S., North Korea conducted its third nuclear test and threatened to launch a nuclear war against South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, prompting Washington to deploy more military assets to the Korean Peninsula.

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