SEOUL (AP) — North Korea delivered a demand to the U.S. military yesterday that it call off war maneuvers with South Korea scheduled at the same time as the second-ever summit between the rival Koreas later this month.
During a meeting held at the North's request at the truce village of Panmunjom, North Korean officers read a statement to U.S. soldiers saying the exercises would have a "catastrophic impact" on ongoing six-nation negotiations on North Korea's nuclear disarmament.
North Korea also issued a vaguely worded threat, carried by the country's official Korean Central News Agency, against the "large-scale war maneuvers." Such threats by North Korea are common, and the country regularly criticizes the annual Ulchi Focus Lens military exercises, held since 1975.
The drills are to involve about 10,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and abroad, according to the U.S. military.
Washington insists the drills are solely defensive and not a threat, and U.S. Army Col. John Towers repeated that position during the 35-minute meeting with his North Korean counterpart yesterday, the U.S. military said.
This year's exercise is scheduled for Aug. 20-31, meaning it would overlap with a meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas on Aug. 28-30 in Pyongyang, the second summit since the peninsula was divided after World War II.
Some local press reports have suggested that the drills could be delayed because of the summit, but the South Korean government said it has not considered changing the previously scheduled exercises.
The drills "would not be any big problem" because they do not involve large movements of troops, presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-sun said.
The U.S. military also said the exercises "will proceed as announced."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said: "The history of defense cooperation and the alliance between the United States and South Korea is long-standing. Exercises of this nature go on all the time, and I fully expect they will continue to do so."
About 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically at war.
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