US calls N.Korean threats to flights 'distinctly unhelpful'

WASHINGTON, March 5, 2009 (AFP) - The United States said Thursday that North Korean threats to South Korean flights are "distinctly unhelpful," urging Pyongyong to instead revive negotiations for its nuclear disarmament.

North Korea announced Thursday it could not ensure the safety of South Korean flights over the Sea of Japan because an upcoming joint US-South Korean military exercise could trigger war.

"Actions such as these are distinctly unhelpful, unwelcome and unnecessary," the State Department's acting deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid told reporters, updating his earlier comments on the remarks from Pyongyang.

"The North Koreans should be working on their commitments to the ... six parties and fulfilling their agreements under the six-party talks, rather than making statements that are ... threatening to peaceful aviation," he said.

The United States has been involved in negotiations with the two Koreas, Japan, China and Russia aimed at scrapping North Korea's nuclear program under a landmark six-party agreement signed in 2007.

Six-party negotiations have deadlocked over a dispute with North Korea over how to verify disarmament.

South Korean airlines announced plans to re-route flights well clear of North Korean airspace after the announcement, the latest in a series of threats which have raised tensions in recent weeks.

A statement on the North's official media said no one knows "what military conflicts will be touched off by the reckless war exercises" south of the border.

The North said it therefore could not guarantee security for South Korean civilian aircraft using North Korean airspace "and its vicinity" above the Sea of Japan, "in particular, while the military exercises are under way."

The annual Key Resolve-Foal Eagle exercise starts Monday and lasts for 12 days. The North has repeatedly denounced it as a prelude to war, while the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) says it is purely defensive.

The North protests against the exercise every year but inter-Korean tensions are currently high.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said he is "not aware of any particular threats" from North Korea and he is "not aware of any component of the exercise which would necessitate flying either Korean or US aircraft into ... North Korean airspace."

Morrell, addressing a press conference, also said officers from the UN command and the North Korean military planned to resume talks on Friday designed to reduce tensions. A previous session on Monday was the first since 2002.

Source: AFP

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