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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 15:29 GMT
N Korea 'must talk' with US
North Korea is angry about US-led manoeuvres
South Korea's President Kim Dae-jung has said North Korea has "no other choice" but to resume talks with the US.

North Korea has so far rejected a US offer for unconditional talks, believing too many strings will be attached to aid and other help.

But the South Korean president said talks will eventually take place.

A very dangerous gamble to seize the chance to provoke a nuclear war

North Korea's description of the exercises

"It is the United States which can provide North Korea with security and economic help," he told foreign ministry officials.

He was speaking on the eve of one of the largest military exercises in the region, with hundreds of thousands of US and South Korean troops preparing to simulate conflict with the north.

US military officials said the war games were defensive in nature and would be the biggest such manoeuvres since the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Ahead of the exercises, the US Department of Defence has said it is planning to sell a sophisticated anti-aircraft system to South Korea.

'Missile threat'

The Aegis warship defence system - built by Lockheed Martin - may be destined for use by destroyers in the South Korean Navy.

US-South Korean war games
Biggest since 1950-53 Korean war
Almost all 37,000 US soldiers stationed in S Korea taking part
Up to 500,000 South Korean troops involved
Exercises designed to "defend" South Korea against attack

A department statement to the American Congress said the deal would help protect an important Asian ally from what it described as a growing missile threat from North Korea.

The system allows warships to track and shoot down more than 100 enemy aircraft at the same time.

The exercises, and the planned defence sale, are expected to anger communist North Korea.

On Monday, a foreign ministry spokesman in Pyongyang claimed the planned US-South Korean manoeuvres were part of a "very dangerous gamble to seize the chance to provoke a nuclear war".

Relations between Washington and the hard-line regime in Pyongyang have worsened since President George W Bush took office, especially after he described North Korea - together with Iraq and Iran - as part of an "axis of evil" in his speech to Congress in January.

The US special envoy to North Korea, Charles Pritchard, met the country's permanent representative to the United Nations, Pak Gil-yon, on Wednesday - the first time since President Bush's now infamous speech.

The two sides agreed to have more meetings, but the Pyongyang administration has not yet responded to an offer of talks at a higher level.

North Korea has recently threatened to withdraw from an agreement to freeze its nuclear arms programme, in response to reports that Washington is drawing up plans for the possible use of nuclear weapons against the country.

See also:

14 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea threatens nuclear pull-out
19 Feb 02 | Media reports
N Korea attacks 'junket of war'
06 Feb 02 | Americas
Analysis: The 'axis of evil' debate
25 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
China protests over arms for Taiwan
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