By ERIC TALMADGE (AP)
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea’s propaganda machine is churning out near-daily diatribes against the United States and South Korea for a series of soon-to-start military maneuvers, warning nuclear war could be imminent and saying it will take dramatic action of its own if further provoked.
Pyongyang’s increasingly shrill opposition to the annual joint drills looks very similar to the kind of vitriol that preceded the start of the same exercises last year and led to a steep rise in tensions on the Korean Peninsula. That round of escalation culminated in threats of a nuclear strike on Washington and the flattening of Seoul before the maneuvers ended and both sides went back to their corners.
It appears the first stages of this year’s battle have already begun — though some experts say they don’t think it will be as high-pitched as last year’s.
In the latest of the North’s increasingly frequent salvos against the exercises, it said through its state-run media that the United States is building up its military forces in Asia so it can invade the country — formally called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK — and take control of the whole region.
“It is the strategic goal of the U.S. to invade the DPRK, bring its neighboring countries under its control with it as a stepping-stone and, furthermore, dominate the whole Asia-Pacific region,” the ruling party’s Rodong Sinmun said in an analysis on Monday. “The U.S. is working hard to kick off large-scale joint military drills this year, too, for the purpose of mounting a pre-emptive nuclear attack upon the DPRK.”
The invectives against the exercises began earlier this month, when the North’s powerful National Defense Commission proposed the rivals halt military actions and “mutual vilification” to build better relations. The North, however, strongly hinted it would maintain its nuclear weapons program while urging South Korea to cancel the drills with the United States, set to begin in late February.
Pyongyang’s ambassador to key ally China offered a somewhat less caustic line at a rare news conference on Wednesday. Ji Jae Ryong told international media the north wanted to reduce tensions to allow steps toward reconciliation and eventual unification between North and South.
“First, we propose taking preparatory measures in response to the warm call for creating an atmosphere for improving North-South ties. In this regard, we officially propose the South Korean authorities take critical measures of halting acts of provoking and slandering the other side from Jan. 30,” Ji said.