Tuesday, July 11, 2006

US military exercise 'violates' North Korea's sovereignty: official

North Korea accused the United States of running a "massive" military exercise off the Korean Peninsula, which Pyongyang's vice foreign minister said was a "serious violation of the principles of sovereignty".

But Kim Hyong Jun repeated in Pretoria, where he is on an official visit to South Africa, that North Korea would return to six-party disarmament talks if Washington agreed to drop economic sanctions against the secretive state.

"At the moment the US is conducting massive military excercises in the waters off the Korean peninsula... with South Korea and Japan," Kim said after talks with his South African counterpart, Aziz Pahad.

"These exercises are a serious violation of the principles of sovereignty, equality, reciprocity and non-interference," Kim said.

His comments came amid another flurry Tuesday of shuttle diplomacy to address the crisis in the wake of last week's seven missile launches.

Separate talks between North and South Korea, and China and the United States were held, a day after a vote on a United Nations Security Council resolution on possible sanctions against Pyongyang was postponed.

The North Korean official defended the missile launches, saying his country "has to defend its rights".

"The latest missile launches are part of routine military exercises to increase our capability for self-defence," Kim said.

"Our military is involved in these missile launches as part of an exercise to contain aggressive threats from the outside and increase the nation's military capability."

He repeated Pyongyang's willingness to return to the negotiating table should the United States drop economic restrictions, instituted last year.

Washington had slapped sanctions on a bank with North Korean accounts that was suspected of counterfeiting and laundering money. US special envoy Christopher Hill on Saturday spurned Pyongyang's offer, saying "to be very frank, I think this is not a time for so-called gestures of this kind."

Kim told reporters: "It is our intention to respect the six-party talks.

"As soon as the US lifts financial sanctions... (North Korea) will be ready to participate in these talks," he said.

He called on the 116-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to increase efforts to resolve the missile dispute, saying "all the problems in the Korean peninsula and east Asia are created by the heavy-handed and arbitrary behaviour of the United States and other major powers."

South Africa's deputy minister Pahad said his country was not in favour of UN sanctions being imposed on North Korea, a position also held by North Korea's closest ally, China.

"We want this matter to be resolved through normal diplomatic consensus. We want to see a situation where all diplomatic efforts have been exhausted before the situation is taken to the UN," Pahad told reporters.

The South African official had met with his Japanese counterpart Yasuhisa Shiozaki last week, who told Pahad that South Africa was "well placed" to discuss the missile tests with Pyongyang.

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