WASHINGTON (Reuters) -North Korea on Monday demanded that the United States and South Korea stop large-scale military exercises, calling them a provocation that may draw “more powerful follow-up measures” from Pyongyang.
“The situation in the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity has entered the serious confrontation phase of power for power again due to the ceaseless and reckless military moves of the U.S. and south Korea,” North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement carried on the country’s official KCNA news agency.
The United States and South Korea began one of their largest combined military air drills on Monday, with hundreds of warplanes from both sides staging mock attacks 24 hours a day for the better part of a week.
The operation, called Vigilant Storm, will run until Friday, and will feature about 240 warplanes conducting about 1,600 sorties, the U.S. Air Force said.
Washington and Seoul believe Pyongyang may be about to resume testing of nuclear bombs for the first time since 2017 and have embraced a strategy of “deterring” Pyongyang through major military drills that some current and former officials say may exacerbate tensions.
The foreign ministry statement said North Korea was “ready to take all necessary measures for defending its sovereignty, people’s security and territorial integrity from outside military threats.”
“If the U.S. continuously persists in the grave military provocations, the DPRK will take into account more powerful follow-up measures,” it said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.
“If the U.S. does not want any serious developments not suited to its security interests, it should stop the useless and ineffective war exercises at once. If not, it will have to totally take the blame for all the consequences.”
On Friday, South Korean troops finished the 12-day Hoguk 22 field exercises, which featured mock amphibious landings and river crossings, including some drills with U.S. forces.
North Korea condemns the joint drills as a rehearsal for invasion and proof of hostile policies by Washington and Seoul. It has launched missiles, conducted air drills, and fired artillery into the sea in response to the exercises.
It has ignored repeated U.S. calls to resume talks over its nuclear and missile programs and has instead embarked on an unprecedented spate of missile testing this year.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday reiterated calls for North Korea to return to talks, while adding that U.S. policy of seeking the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula had not changed.
He was asked at a news briefing about comments last week by a senior U.S. official responsible for nuclear policy who raised some eyebrows by saying Washington would be willing to engage in arms-control talks with North Korea, something some experts say would require recognizing North Korea as a nuclear-armed state.
Asked if the United States would eventually recognize North Korea as such, Price replied: “That is not our policy. I do not foresee that ever becoming our policy.”
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Caitlin Webber and Alistair Bell)