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N. Korean threat to quit armistice

S. Korea's president says claims N. Korea may be the next U.S.-military target were
S. Korea's president says claims N. Korea may be the next U.S.-military target were "groundless."

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The fighting in Iraq is fueling the growing tension on the Korean peninsula. CNN's Mike Chinoy reports. (March 24)
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PYONGYANG, North Korea (CNN) -- North Korea says it may have "no option" but to stop honoring its commitments to the 1953 Korean War armistice because of U.S. "persistent war moves" in and around the Korean Peninsula.

In its latest missive against ongoing U.S. and South Korean joint military exercises, a statement issued by North Korea's state-run KCNA called the war games a "grave situation" and hit out at a U.S. military build-up in the region.

"The [Korean People's Army] side has exercised its utmost patience and restraint, repeatedly urging the U.S. forces side to stop the arms buildup and large-scale military exercises, threats to the DPRK," the statement said. DPRK is the abbreviation for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the formal name of North Korea.

"However, the U.S. forces side transferred nuclear-powered carrier [USS] Carl Vinson, several F-117 stealth fighters, and a wing of F-15 fighters to South Korea under the pretext of their participation in the ... joint military exercises now under way in South Korea."

The statement accused the United States of conducting aerial espionage of North Korea almost daily, "thus totally breaching the [armistice agreement] and putting its attempt at a preemptive attack on the DPRK into practice step by step."

North Korea has issued similar statements in recent weeks, all accusing the United States of violating the 1953 agreement and threatening to pull out of it.

North Korea and the U.S. have both in recent weeks escalated their military movements on the peninsula, as a five-month nuclear standoff between both sides shows no signs of easing.

The crisis began in October when the U.S. officials said North Korean officials admitted has been pursuing a secret nuclear program in contravention to a 1994 pact

Since then, the North has kicked out U.N. nuclear inspectors, pulled out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, continued to warn it might drop out of an armistice that stopped the 1953 Korean War and has resume missile test firings.

North Korea has pulled out of regular meetings with the U.S. military as a protest to the war games.
North Korea has pulled out of regular meetings with the U.S. military as a protest to the war games.

In the past month, North Korean fighter jets have intercepted a U.S. spy plane in international airspace off the coast, and Pyongyang has restarted a mothballed five-megawatt nuclear reactor capable of producing plutonium for a nuclear bomb within the year.

The North says it harbors no nuclear weapons ambitions and is reactivating its nuclear facilities to provide much needed electricity to the impoverished communist nation.

In addition to the military exercises with the South, the United States decided to deploy an additional 12 B-1 bombers and 12 B-52 bombers to Guam as a message to North Korea that the U.S. military is not distracted by the war with Iraq.

Some long-time Korea observers in the Bush administration have begun to voice concern privately that such moves could lead to a military showdown on the Korean Peninsula, according to several administration sources.

Wednesday, the North Korean Army's chief delegate informed his U.S. counterpart he would no longer participate in the regular meetings both sides have been holding at Panmunjom, the joint security area along the border between North and South.

"It is meaningless to sit together with the U.S. forces side to discuss any issue as long as it remains arrogant," the statement said, referring to the United States.

The message warned that if the U.S. forces continue "pushing the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war," the Korean People's Army will have "no option" but to take new, important measures regarding the armistice agreement.

There was no mention of the Iraq conflict in the KCNA news release.

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