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North Korea denounces war games, but is still game for six-party talks

North Korea denounced joint US and South Korean exercises on Thursday in a volley of rhetoric that analysts believe was sure to increase regional tensions, but not fresh clashes.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / July 22, 2010

North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun, center, surrounded by Vietnamese security staff, gets in a limousine to leave the main venue of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi, Vietnam Thursday. North Korea is denouncing US-South Korean military exercises while saying they are ready to resume six-party talks.

Hoang Dinh Nam/AP Photo/Pool

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At a time when North Korea is attempting to show it's ready to resume six-party talks on its nuclear weapons program, Pyongyang fired off a volley of rhetoric aimed at joint US and South Korean military exercises.

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The denunciation, one day after the US announced new sanctions may increase regional tensions, say analysts, but does not mean fresh clashes are likely.

At the regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, North Korean spokesman Ri Tong-il characterized US and South Korea war games as “a grave threat to the peace and security not only of the Korean peninsula but of the region.”

While Mr. Ri’s tone was typical of North Korean denunciations of the annual US and South Korean exercises staged every spring, analysts fear North Korea may be using the war games to raise the temperature in the wake of the sinking of a South Korean navy ship in the Yellow Sea. The war games are slated to begin Sunday off South Korea's east coast.

"[North Korea sees] the exercises as a real danger,” says Kim Bum-soo, a scholar on international relations and editor of an influential conservative magazine. “If we carry out the exercises, North Korea needs to fly its own fighters, to take defensive measure," he advises.

But North Korea’s aging warplanes, mostly Russian-built MiGs, are not likely to go anywhere near the exercises. They remain grounded much of the time due to of a lack of fuel and spare parts.

“I don’t think there will be retaliation in the near future,” says Mr. Kim, even though “the exercises will increase tensions.” He says he sees pressure against North Korea as building on the basis of “two-plus two talks” – that is, the meetings this week between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates and their South Korean counterparts in Seoul.

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