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(LEAD) Unification ministry says Pyongyang's criticism of military exercise not helpful for inter-Korean ties

North Korea 14:04 August 12, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS defense ministry's comments in last 2 paras; RECTIFIES time element in 2nd para)

SEOUL, Aug. 12 (Yonhap) -- The unification ministry on Monday refuted North Korea's ramped-up criticism that the ongoing joint Seoul-Washington military drill is a violation of agreements between the two Koreas, saying such criticism does not help advance inter-Korean relations.

North Korea has lashed out at South Korea and the U.S. for holding a joint military exercise that kicked off earlier this month. The North said that inter-Korean dialogue will stop until Seoul gives a "plausible excuse" for the drill.

"(We) want to point out that the criticism by North Korea's foreign ministry and its media outlets against our government mentioning the South Korea-U.S. joint exercise does not help advance inter-Korean relations at all," Lee Sang-min, the ministry's spokesperson, told a regular press briefing.

"The exercise is not a field training aimed at the North, but a joint command post drill intended to prepare for the transfer of wartime operational control (from Washington to Seoul)," he said. "It is not a violation of North-South military agreements."

The spokesperson noted that South Korea remains committed to summit agreements reached last year between the two Koreas, urging Pyongyang to respond to Seoul's efforts to move inter-Korean ties forward.

South and North Korea signed military deals last September, in which they agreed to reduce cross-border tensions. North Korea has called Seoul-Washington military drills a rehearsal for invasion.

North Korea fired two more projectiles believed to be short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea on Saturday, the latest in a series of saber-rattling moves against the joint exercise between Seoul and Washington.

A senior official of the North's foreign ministry said in a statement Sunday that Pyongyang won't have contact with South Korea unless Seoul gives a "plausible excuse" for its ongoing military exercise with the U.S., calling it an "aggressive war exercise against" the North.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in a tweet last week that he has received a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in which he said the leader expressed his displeasure with the joint military exercise but voiced hope to start their stalled nuclear talks as soon as the drill is over.

Asked about its response to North Korea's mockery of the South Korean military, defense ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo simply said, "We feel no need to respond every time."

Issuing a statement Sunday with harsh language, such as the words "idiot" and "scared dog," North Korea warned Seoul's Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo that his "ludicrous comments" against North Korea will only make things worse.



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