(LEAD) N. Korea warns continued 'U.S. hostility' will be considered 'declaration of war'
(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more info; ADDS photo)
By Yi Wonju
SEOUL, Feb. 24 (Yonhap) -- A North Korean foreign ministry official on Friday warned that Pyongyang will regard what it claims to be "hostile practices" from the United States as a "declaration of war" against the reclusive country.
Kwon Jong-gun, director-general for U.S. affairs at the ministry, also called on Washington to halt its deployment of strategic assets to Korea and combined drills with Seoul to prevent the "vicious cycle" of escalating military tension on the peninsula, in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
"The U.S. should bear in mind that if it persists in its hostile and provocative practices against the DPRK despite the latter's repeated protest and warning, it can be regarded as a declaration of war against the DPRK," the KCNA said in the English-language report.
DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
He condemned South Korea and the United States for staging a tabletop exercise (TTX) at the Pentagon on Wednesday, labeling it as a "nuclear war demonstration against the DPRK."
In a joint press release issued after the practice, the allies said it focused on potential options for responding to the North's nuclear weapons use and allied deterrence, given Pyongyang's "recent aggressive nuclear policy and advancements in nuclear capabilities."
It added the U.S. will "continue to field flexible nuclear forces suited to deterring regional nuclear conflict, including the capability to forward deploy strategic bombers, dual-capable fighter aircraft, and nuclear weapons to the region."
Kwon also denounced the visit of U.S. officials and the South Korean delegation to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia, a southeastern coastal base home to key nuclear submarines.
"This clearly proves what phase their attempt to confront with the DPRK has reached," he said.
During the allies' annual defense ministerial talks in November last year, the two sides agreed to increase the frequency and intensity in the deployment of U.S. strategic assets to the peninsula. Militarily, strategic assets refer to such high-powered weapon systems as aircraft carriers, advanced stealth jets, strategic bombers and nuclear-powered submarines.
Kwon strongly criticized the U.N. Security Council for taking issue with the North's recent missile provocations at an emergency meeting earlier this week, claiming the tests are an exercise of its "right to self-defense.
"If the UNSC has a true intention to contribute to peace and security in the Korean peninsula, it will have to bitterly condemn the U.S. and South Korea for their moves of escalating military tension such as frequent deployment of strategic assets and large-scale joint military drills against the DPRK," he said, slamming the UNSC as merely a "tool" of the U.S to pressure the North.
He warned that the North will take "corresponding strong countermeasure" if the UNSC, "led by the U.S.," puts the issue of its "right to self-defense on the table again."
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