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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.

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North Korea appears to see those meetings, and the exercises, as the basis for revving up a diplomatic campaign intended to show its willingness to return to six-party talks on its nuclear weapons.

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North Korea’s spokesman says the country would return to the talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, last held in Beijing in December 2008, if they were held on “an equal footing” with other participants. By “equal footing,” he said he meant that the UN Security Council should first do away with the sanctions – a goal that appeared to undermine chances of a resumption of talks in the near future.

Meanwhile, North Korea is making an effort to show it is ready to talk. For the second time in two weeks, colonels from the United States and North Korea are due to meet Friday at the truce village of Panmunjom to prepare for broader talks between generals.

It was at Panmunjom that the Korean War armistice was signed nearly 57 years ago, on July 27, 1953.

As the focus on North Korea gradually shifts from crisis to that of impending talks, or talks about talks, analysts are skeptical of any substantive results.

“They are going to exploit the situation,” says Lee Chang-choon, a retired ambassador who participated in negotiations with North Korea in the early 1990s. “They would take advantage of what has happened in the UN” – referring to the watered-down statement issued by the UN Security Council that failed to blame North Korea for the attack on the Cheonan in which 46 South Korean sailors were killed.

As for the North Korean spokesman’s statement at the forum of ASEAN, in which South Korea is also participating, Mr. Lee says, “This is actually nonsense.” Ri's comments "are just a media exercise.” Mr. Lee calls the ASEAN gathering, at which diplomats typically signal high-level policies, “a kind of diplomatic festival.”

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