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(LEAD) N.K. propaganda outlet slams defense chief over joint drill with U.S.

All News 13:49 January 13, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS defense ministry's response, background info in last 3 paras)

SEOUL, Jan. 13 (Yonhap) -- A North Korean propaganda outlet on Monday lashed out at South Korea's defense minister over the South's joint military exercise with the United States, ridiculing him as absent any authority to decide on the fate of the allies' combined exercises.

Meari, one of the North's propaganda websites, denounced Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo as "inferior to U.S. rank-and-file soldiers" for a "lack of authority," and said South Korea will do, in the end, as the U.S. decides.

"To be clear, the South Korean military has no authority whatsoever to decide on the joint military exercise," the article said.

The criticism came two days after Kim Kye-gwan, a former chief nuclear negotiator of the North, mocked South Korea's efforts to facilitate the negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

North Korea has been ramping up pressure on South Korea and the U.S. over their joint military exercise and the introduction of weapons on the Korean Peninsula, saying it won't return to the negotiation table until Washington withdraws its hostile policy against the North. Pyongyang has long denounced the allies' drills as an invasion rehearsal.

South Korea, however, maintains that the allies have adjusted the combined exercises in order to support diplomatic efforts for denuclearization, and the defense ministry says details of the plan for this year's exercises will be decided "in consideration of how things go."

"As you are well aware of, (South Korea and the U.S.) have maintained the stance that combined exercises shall be adjusted in close coordination between the two sides in order to militarily support diplomatic efforts for the denuclearization (of North Korea)," ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo said in a regular briefing on Monday.

Choi declined comment on the North's criticism, saying it's not worth a response.

Since the U.S. and North Korea began nuclear negotiations in 2018, Seoul and Washington have either canceled or scaled back their joint drills. In the latest such move, the two countries decided in November last year to put off their annual wintertime air exercises.

In this file photo, taken on Nov. 5, 2019, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo attends a plenary session of the special committee on budget and accounts at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap)


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