N. Korea tells S. Korea to cancel military drills with United States

Intends to use Asian Games participation as tool

SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea demanded Monday that rival South Korea cancel annual military drills with the U.S. this summer to promote reconciliation ahead of the Asian Games, which South Korea is hosting and North Korea has said it will enter.

The demand, among a set of proposals made by North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission, showed that the North intends to use its participation in the games as a negotiating card with South Korea, analysts say. The Asian Games are scheduled to take place in the South Korean city of Incheon from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4.

Analysts say North Korea is pursuing better ties with the outside world to obtain investment and aid to revive its troubled economy. But officials in Seoul and Washington have said the North must first take steps toward nuclear disarmament to earn any economic help.

On Monday, the North's defense commission said it wants South Korea-U.S. military drills planned for August to be scrapped immediately, saying they are a preparation for an attack. It didn't say what it would do if the drills go ahead. The allies have said they have no intention of invading the North.

"With its Asian Games participation as a negotiation tool, North Korea is pushing for South Korea to cancel the drills or conduct them in a dramatically less threatening manner," said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kyungnam University.

Lim and other analysts said North Korea might boycott the Asian Games if the drills go ahead in the same manner as in previous years or if relations with Seoul develop in a direction it doesn't want.

North Korea boycotted the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Summer Olympics, both in Seoul, but attended the 2002 Asian Games in Busan and the 2003 University Games in Daegu.

The defense commission, in a statement carried by state media, proposed that the two Koreas halt hostile military acts against each other at border areas and stop psychological warfare starting Friday, the 42nd anniversary of a historic 1972 joint statement on peaceful reunification.

North Korea has made similar proposals in the past, but they have quickly fizzed as tension between the rivals flared. South Korea's Unification Ministry said it is deciding whether to make a formal response to the North Korean proposals.

The proposals are largely seen as testing whether the conservative South Korean government of President Park Geun-hye, who faces public criticism following a deadly ferry disaster in April, wants to break the deadlock in inter-Korean ties, Lim said.

Tension between the rivals remains high after North Korea conducted a barrage of missile and rocket tests earlier this year. The two Koreas also exchanged artillery fire near a disputed western sea boundary.

South Korean officials said North Korea fired short-range projectiles and missiles into waters off its east coast on Thursday and Sunday. The North's state media later said leader Kim Jong Un inspected test launches of missile and rockets in a likely reference to the launches.

The launches and Monday's proposals could also be related to a planned meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Park in Seoul this week, since China is North Korea's major ally and key aid provider. Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor at Korea University in South Korea, said the North wants to say it is willing to improve ties with South Korea but still have the capability of raising tensions again.

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