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North Korea denounces war games, but is still game for six-party talks

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"[North Korea sees] the exercises as a real danger,” says Kim Bum-soo, a scholar on international relations and editor of an influential conservative magazine. “If we carry out the exercises, North Korea needs to fly its own fighters, to take defensive measure," he advises.

But North Korea’s aging warplanes, mostly Russian-built MiGs, are not likely to go anywhere near the exercises. They remain grounded much of the time due to of a lack of fuel and spare parts.

“I don’t think there will be retaliation in the near future,” says Mr. Kim, even though “the exercises will increase tensions.” He says he sees pressure against North Korea as building on the basis of “two-plus two talks” – that is, the meetings this week between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates and their South Korean counterparts in Seoul.

North Korea appears to see those meetings, and the exercises, as the basis for revving up a diplomatic campaign intended to show its willingness to return to six-party talks on its nuclear weapons.

North Korea’s spokesman says the country would return to the talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, last held in Beijing in December 2008, if they were held on “an equal footing” with other participants. By “equal footing,” he said he meant that the UN Security Council should first do away with the sanctions – a goal that appeared to undermine chances of a resumption of talks in the near future.

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