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North Korea has called on its southern neighbour to cancel annual war games with the US military, the KCNA news agency has reported.
The war exercises – known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle – which are held from the end of February till the middle of April, have been a major source of contention for Pyongyang.
On Thursday, Pyongyang’s National Defense Commission said in a policy bureau spokesman’s statement that dialogue between the two Koreas about security on the peninsula “can never be compatible” with war games that are designed to wage war.
Seoul said its exercises were of a defensive nature.
The statement came a day after the two Koreas decided to hold family reunions later this month – the first in more than three years – as a confidence-building measure that potentially could lead to greater dialogue.
Last year, relations between the two Koreas significantly deteriorated after Pyongyang announced it was terminating the 61-year-old armistice with Seoul.
North and South Korea are not technically “at peace” since no peace treaty was signed following the Korean War in 1953. The Demilitarized Zone between the countries is the most heavily armed border in the world.
Last year, Pyongyang threatened the US with a preemptive nuclear strike amid warnings of retaliatory countermeasures if the US and South Korea went ahead with the drills.
It then placed its strategic rocket forces on standby to strike US and South Korean targets.
North Korea also carried out its third nuclear test in February, prompting a fresh UN Security Council sanctions resolution against the impoverished state led by Kim Jong-un, the 30-year-old grandson of its founder.
In previous announcements, North Korea has said ending the exercises was a precondition to reopening diplomatic channels to resume talks with the US and its southern neighbor.
But in June, following a recent failed effort to revive direct talks with its southern neighbour, North Korea signaled it was ready to participate in high-level regional security talks with Washington.
While South Korea has offered to talk to its northern rival in previous months, there has not been any official US response to Pyongyang’s overtures.
Last month, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that North Korea remained one of the most critical US security challenges in Northeast Asia as it continued to pursue nuclear capabilities and develops long-range ballistic missiles.
The Pentagon has also said that its development of long-range ballistic missile programs – including the December 2012 Taepodong-2 missile launch and the April 2012 display of a new road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile – demonstrate its threat to regional stability and US national security.
Meanwhile, ties between the two Koreas have stabilised since last year’s increased tension and war rhetoric.
On December 31, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called on his southern neighbour to work toward improved relations.
Five days later, South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye said one way to do that would be to resume a programme to reunite families in both countries.
In early September, the two Koreas reached an agreement to fully reopen the Kaesong industrial complex, which was shut down in April after tensions between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington peaked over the former’s launching of upgraded missiles and the latter holding joint military exercises.
The Kaesong Industrial Complex was established in 2004 as an attempt to bring the two Koreas closer through cross-border cooperation and employing 53,000 North Korean workers.