North Korea demanded on Thursday that the United States withdraw its troops from South Korea to prove Washington doesn't plan to attack the North a perceived threat the communist state has used to justify its nuclear weapons program.
The North's demand is not new, but comes just a week before six-nation talks on its nuclear ambitions are scheduled to resume. North Korea has repeatedly said it can't dismantle its nuclear program unless the United States drops its "hostile" policy.
On Thursday, the Rodong Sinmun, the North's main newspaper, claimed the United States is driving a "fire cloud of war" over the Korean Peninsula by positioning state-of-the-art military hardware in the South and preparing for a pre-emptive nuclear attack against the North.
"If the United States truly has no intention of northward invasion ... it must substantiate that with a brave decision to withdraw the U.S. troops," the newspaper said in a commentary carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
About 32,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against threats from the North. The United States has said repeatedly it has no intention of invading.
But North Korea said a recent U.S.-South Korean military exercise proved Washington was planning an invasion. The 12-day drill that ended this month was largely a computer-simulated war game that U.S. and South Korean officials say is purely defensive.
North Korea cited the exercise as a reason to delay the resumption of the international arms talks in Beijing until next week, two weeks later than previously agreed.
The latest stumbling block at the talks is how to reconcile North Korea's demand that it has a right to a civilian nuclear program with the U.S. position that the communist state shouldn't be allowed any nuclear program at all because of its record of broken promises, reports the AP.