N. Korea blasts U.S., Japan maritime drills


North Korea on Saturday lashed out at the United States and Japan for their plans to hold maritime drills near Tokyo to battle weapons proliferation, saying the exercises justified its development of nuclear weapons. Tokyo has said the October exercises would be similar to previous drills held under the U.S. sponsored Proliferation Security Initiative, in which troops intercepted and boarded ships to practice stopping illegal arms shipments. Japan has invited 15 of the initiative’s active members to participate and hopes other Asian countries will also send vessels, troops and observers. U.S. officials have said the PSI effort was not aimed at any one nation, but acknowledged that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program was a top concern.

A spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency Saturday that the drills were part of a U.S. attempt to “isolate and blockade” the country.

“The present situation where the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK has reached a dangerous phase proves the justice of the measures taken by it to steadily bolster all the means for self-defense including the nuclear deterrent force,” KCNA quoted the unnamed spokesman as saying. DPRK is the acronym for the North’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The spokesman further accused Japan of hosting the exercises at the bidding of the United States and accused Tokyo of violating an agreement to work toward establishing diplomatic relations.

“The DPRK will closely watch the development,” the spokesman said.

Ten PSI drills have been held since last September, when Australia hosted the first exercises in the Coral Sea after the initiative was formally backed by 11 nations.

North Korean state media then branded that exercise a “military provocation.”

Drills have also been held in the Arabian Sea, when heavily armed U.S. and Spanish troops used military helicopters to track, board and search a vessel disguised as a merchant ship carrying concealed chemical and biological weapons.

The 11 nations that initially backed the PSI initiative last year are Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Since then, five other countries have actively participated in the program, while 60 others have declared their willingness to support its goals.