North Korea is stepping up pressure on the US and South Korea to cancel a major military exercise due to begin next month, with a senior official warning that the drills will push the peninsula “to the brink of war”.
Hyon Hak Bong, Pyongyang’s ambassador to London, told the Financial Times that the military exercises would gravely damage the North’s recent calls for improved ties with the South. He suggested they would also jeopardise the reunions of families divided by the border, to which Pyongyang agreed in principle earlier this month.
“We gave South Korea an opportunity – if they lose this chance they will be strongly mistaken,” Mr Hyon said. “If the exercises go ahead it will make the situation tense and bring the situation to the brink of war.”
Last year’s spring exercises, involving thousands of troops, prompted Pyongyang to issue repeated, strongly worded warnings of imminent conflict, adding to international concern after North Korea’s third nuclear test last February.
Pyongyang has tried to take the initiative in the run-up to this year’s drills, on January 16, publishing a proposal for both sides to suspend “slander” and “hostile military acts”.
South Korea has ruled out abandoning the drills, instead urging Pyongyang to demonstrate its sincerity by agreeing to reunion meetings in mid-February for families divided by the country’s partition in the 1940s.
But Mr Hyon said these meetings “can’t be held under a dangerous situation in which South Korea and the US stage the joint military exercises”.
He disputed the insistence of Seoul and Washington that the drills are for defensive purposes. “Under the framework of joint exercises they are planning a special landing operation to occupy Pyongyang,” he claimed. “The nature of the exercises is for nuclear war in the future.”