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North Korea’s Kim visits DMZ, orders high alert
Question of the Day
Panmunjom has drawn other high-profile visitors in times of tension.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and then Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates traveled there in July 2010, four months after a warship sinking blamed on Pyongyang killed 46 South Korean sailors. North Korea has denied involvement. In 2002, then President George W. Bush visited Panmunjom a few weeks after he condemned North Korea as part of an “axis of evil.”
On Saturday, a spokesman for North Korea’s National Defense Commission told a news conference that the United States must halt the joint military drills if it is serious about peace on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea calls the U.S.-South Korean war games a threat to peace at a time when U.S. and North Korean officials are holding talks aimed at improving relations.
The U.S. and North Korea announced last week that Washington had agreed to provide 240,000 metric tons of food aid in exchange for a freeze of North Korea’s nuclear activities. A U.S. envoy is scheduled to meet with North Korean officials in Beijing on Wednesday to discuss the distribution of food.
The deal is seen as a first step toward resuming six-nation nuclear disarmament-for-aid talks suspended in 2009, and a tentative move toward improving the tense relationship between the wartime foes. The six-nation talks involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
“Talks and military exercises are contradictory,” North Korean Maj. Gen. Kwak Chol-hui, deputy director of the National Defense Commission’s Policy Department, told the news conference Saturday in response to a question from the Associated Press.
North Korea considers the drills an additional affront because they are being staged during the semiofficial 100-day mourning period following Kim Jong-il’s Dec. 17 death.
Across Pyongyang, vans mounted with speakers drove through the streets Saturday broadcasting the statement denouncing South Korea. State media reported that 1.7 million young North Koreans signed up for military service in a 24-hour period and that hundreds of thousands signed petitions calling for revenge. The figures could not be confirmed independently.
• Associated Press writers Kim Kwang-hyon and Pak Won-il contributed to this report from Pyongyang, North Korea.
By Matt Kibbe
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