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North Korea, don't mess with South, US signals to Kim Jong-il

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Road to confrontation

Although North Korea did not make good on threats to challenge the exercises militarily, skeptics see the war games as sharpening a sense of confrontation in the region while setting back peace and reconciliation efforts between the two Koreas.

“The US wanted to make sure to continue to maintain and strengthen its leadership in this corner of the world,” says Paik Hak-soon, long-time scholar on North Korea at the influential Sejong Institute in Korea, thereby “sacrificing its former goal of denuclearizing North Korea.”

North Korea has said it’s now interested in returning to six-party talks on its nuclear program, which were last held in Beijing in December 2008, but observers believe the North is planning a third underground test of a nuclear device and more missile tests.

“North Korea has many options,” says Mr. Paik. “No one can prevent North Korea. Nothing has been accomplished in terms of denuclearizing North Korea. What is left is more pronounced confrontation.”

China plays crucial role

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