Image: North Korean soldier at a border village
Ahn Young-joon  /  AP
A North Korean soldier at the border village of Panmunjom, north of Seoul on Feb. 19. High-level military officials from North Korea and the U.S.-led U.N. Command held urgent talks at the border Monday amid heightened tensions in the region.
updated 3/3/2009 12:29:09 AM ET 2009-03-03T05:29:09

The U.S. military said Tuesday it will push ahead with plans to hold joint exercises with South Korea next week despite North Korea's warning that it would consider the drills preparation for an attack.

The North demanded during rare talks with the U.N. Command on Monday that the U.S. and South Korea call off the annual military exercise set to start March 9, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported. North Korean officials warned that the drill would "further stir up" tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the report said, citing an unnamed South Korean official.

On Tuesday, U.S. military spokesman Kim Yong-kyu said the annual joint exercises will go ahead planned.

The drills, set for March 9-20 in sites across South Korea, come amid concerns North Korea is preparing to test a long-range missile capable of striking U.S. territory.

The North said last week it would launch a communications satellite into orbit. But neighboring governments believe the satellite claim may be a cover for a missile launch and have warned the regime such a move would invite international sanctions. Analysts say satellites and missiles use similar delivery systems.

North Korea unsuccessfully test-fired a long-range missile in 2006, but is believed to have made improvements in its missile capabilities. Analysts say satellite images reveal brisk activity at a launch pad in North Korea's northeast.

The two Koreas, which technically remain at war, remain divided by the world's most heavily fortified border, with the U.S.-led command overseeing their 1953 cease-fire. Although other nations contributed forces during the Korean War, U.S. troops are the only foreign combat forces left on the peninsula. The U.S. has 28,500 troops in South Korea.

State-run North Korean media reiterated Tuesday that it considers the drill — involving 26,000 American troops, an unspecified number of South Korean soldiers and a U.S. aircraft carrier — preparation for an attack on the North.

North Korea "has fully got its war mobilization preparedness to resolutely smash the enemy's any attempt to harm the republic's dignity and safety," the Minju Joson newspaper said in a commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The editorial did not mention Monday's 30-minute meeting, the first general-level talks since 2002. The U.N. Command said the two sides discussed "measures to reduce tension and introduce transparency" and agreed to hold more meetings but no specific dates have been set.

Analysts say the threat is a bid to draw President Barack Obama's attention as his administration formulates its North Korea policy as international disarmament talks remain on hold. Obama's envoy on North Korea is heading to the region for talks with his counterparts to the nuclear talks.

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Russia calls for restraint
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for restraint from all sides.

"We are following the situation and counting on everyone to show restraint and fulfill the obligations set out in U.N. Security Council resolutions," state-run RIA-Novosti quoted Lavrov as saying Monday.

"Nobody has prohibited launching satellites," Lavrov was quoted as saying. "On the other hand, it's necessary to understand what kind of rocket it is."

Relations between the two Koreas are at their lowest point in a decade, with North Korea bristling over South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's hard-line policy toward Pyongyang. The tensions have intensified in recent weeks amid reports that North Korea is preparing to test a long-range missile.

Analysts say communist North Korea also wants to capture President Barack Obama's attention at a time when international disarmament talks with the regime remain stalled.

Neighboring governments believe the satellite claim may be a cover for a missile launch and have warned the regime such a move would invite international sanctions. North Korea, which in 2006 tested a nuclear weapon and unsuccessfully fired a long-range missile, is banned from engaging in any ballistic missile activity under a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Obama is dispatching his envoy for North Korea, Stephen W. Bosworth, to Asia this week to discuss the nuclear dispute. Bosworth plans to meet with officials in China, Japan and South Korea, and will consult separately with Russian officials, the State Department said.

The two Koreas remain divided by the world's most heavily fortified border. Although other nations contributed forces during the Korean War, U.S. troops are the only foreign combat forces left on the peninsula. The U.S. has 28,500 troops in South Korea.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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