S. Korea Says U.S. Drills to Proceed After North’s Warning

South Korea said joint military drills with the U.S. would proceed after North Korea warned of damage to relations that could lead to a “catastrophe” on the Korean peninsula.

“Should North Korea make a military provocation using our regular drills against contingencies as an excuse, our military will mercilessly retaliate,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok told reporters today. North Korea said both nations should halt all forms of “provocation” and “slander” by Jan. 30 to mark the start of the Lunar New Year, according to a statement released today.

The two Koreas must take “practical steps” to defuse tension, the communist country’s National Defense Commission said in the statement released through the official Korean Central News Agency. North Korea will be the first to take “actual steps” to halt all “hostile military actions,” it said, without elaborating on what actions it would take.

The U.S. maintains more than 28,000 troops in South Korea six decades after the end of the war that sealed the division of the two countries. Both countries carry out annual military drills that the North has repeatedly denounced as a rehearsal for an invasion.

The North repeated today that it needed nuclear weapons to defend itself against an attack by the U.S. while saying it’s committed to denuclearization.

‘Sternly Warn’

The U.S. and South Korea usually hold the annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises between February and April. The drills come as the South Korean army prepares to take over wartime command of its troops from the U.S. in December 2015.

“We sternly warn the U.S. and the South Korean authorities to stop the dangerous military exercises which may push the situation on the peninsula and the north-south ties to a catastrophe,” KCNA reported late yesterday, citing an unidentified spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea.

China urged all parties to work toward peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

“All parties should exercise restraint and refrain from actions that would provoke one another,” Hong Lei, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, told reporters in Beijing today.

North Korea conducted its third test of a nuclear device ahead of last year’s drills, contributing to tightened United Nations sanctions against Kim Jong Un’s regime.

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