- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

SEOUL North Korea cannot remain "a passive onlooker" while the United States conducts military exercises in the region, the North said yesterday, claiming that Washington is pushing a nuclear crisis toward a second Korean War.
While vowing to counter any military attacks, Pyongyang also said yesterday it wants to avoid war and reiterated its demand for direct talks with Washington.
"The DPRK cannot remain a passive onlooker to the U.S. intensified military moves as they are a dangerous military racket to ignite the second Korean War," North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said yesterday. DPRK stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.
The U.S. military said the annual Foal Eagle exercises, which end April 2, are defensive and not related to the political situation on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea blames the war games for heightened tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula. A dispute over North Korea's nuclear programs has been spiraling since October, when the United States said Pyongyang had admitted having a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 agreement.
The United States has gathered an impressive show of force for the exercises, including the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and six U.S. F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighters.
In a separate commentary reported by South Korea's Yonhap news agency, Rodong said: "We do not want the standoff to lead to war and demand to resolve the issue through North Korea-U.S. direct talks."
The United States wants a multilateral approach that would include other regional powers.
Despite the standoff, Washington promised to send 40,000 tons of food immediately to impoverished North Korea as part of its commitment to deliver 100,000 tons of food this year, a U.N. envoy said yesterday in Beijing.
The announcement by Maurice Strong, a Canadian aide to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, came after warnings by aid agencies that donations have dropped sharply, jeopardizing programs that feed millions of North Koreans.
Mr. Strong, who plans to visit Pyongyang tomorrow to help mediate the standoff, said he had information for North Korea after meeting U.S. officials in Washington last week. He did not give any details.
Rodong said yesterday that U.S. military moves against the nation were in full swing.
"The crisis issue between the DPRK and the U.S. over the nuclear issue is being driven into a tight corner," the paper said in a commentary carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

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