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North Korea threatens ‘1,000-fold’ increase in weapons

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SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean media on Saturday threatened a "1,000-fold" military buildup as the United States ruled out lifting sanctions to try to coax the North into resuming talks aimed at its nuclear weapons programs.

Last year, North Korea quit the nuclear disarmament talks and later tested an atomic device that drew tightened U.N. sanctions.

But North Korea said Saturday it is willing to rejoin the negotiations and remains committed to implementing a September 2005 accord on abandoning its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees. Instead, it accused the United States and other participants of holding back the six-nation talks.

North Korea "is ready for the resumption of the … talks but decided not to go hasty but to make ceaseless patient efforts now that the U.S. and some other participating countries are not ready for them," the country’s Foreign Ministry said late Saturday in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The talks involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

The statement came after North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, Kim Kye Gwan, returned home from a five-day trip to China, the North’s key ally.

Kim said after meeting with Chinese nuclear envoy Wu Dawei on Friday that his country would not return to the disarmament talks unless sanctions are lifted, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley responded Friday that the sanctions exist because North Korea consistently has failed to live up to its international obligations. "We have no intention of removing those sanctions as an enticement for dialogue," he told reporters.

Saturday’s Minju Joson newspaper, part of North Korea’s state-controlled media, said in a commentary that the country’s war deterrent force will be strengthened "100- or 1,000-fold" as long as U.S. military threats persist, according to KCNA.

The North has often made similar threats. The latest one came two days after South Korea wrapped up naval drills with the U.S., Australia and Japan aimed at intercepting illicit weapon shipments in a U.S.-led program targeting nations such as North Korea.

Despite repeated assurances from Washington, the North believes any military drills involving the U.S. are aimed at an eventual invasion. The naval drills were "an undisguised military provocation and declaration of a war" against North Korea, the North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary carried by KCNA.

This week’s one-day maneuvers were Seoul’s first active participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative, aimed at deterring trade in weapons of mass destruction and missiles by states including North Korea and Iran.

Separately, the South Korean and the U.S. air forces kicked off annual drills Friday, which they say are aimed at improving their combined combat capabilities. The drills will last for a week, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry.

North Korea’s latest threats continue a trend of mixed messages. The North has recently reached out to South Korea and called for talks on the resumption of stalled tours to a resort inside North Korea. The two sides have also agreed to hold the first reunions in a year later this month for families divided by the Korean War.

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