SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea demanded Monday that rival South Korea cancel annual military drills with the U.S. this summer to promote an atmosphere for reconciliation ahead of the Asian Games to be hosted by South Korea that North Korea has said it would enter.
The demand, which was among a set of proposals the North's powerful National Defense Commission made to ease tension, showed Pyongyang intends to use its planned participation in the games as a negotiating card in the standoff with Seoul, analysts say. The Asian Games are scheduled to take place in the South Korean city of Incheon from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4.
Analysts say the North wants better ties with the outside world so it can get investments and aid to try to revive its troubled economy. But officials in Seoul and Washington have said the North must first take steps toward nuclear disarmament to earn any economic help.
On Monday, the North's defense commission said in a statement it wants the South Korea-U.S. drills planned for August to be scrapped immediately because they are a preparation for an attack. It didn't say what it would do if the drills go ahead.
"With its Asian Games participation as a negotiation tool, North Korea is pushing for South Korea to cancel the drills or conduct them in a dramatically less threatening manner," said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kyungnam University.
Lim and other analysts said the North could boycott the Asian Games if the drills go ahead in the same manner as previous years or if relations with Seoul develop in a direction it doesn't want.
The defense commission, in a statement carried by state media, proposed that the two Koreas halt hostile military acts against each other at border areas and stop psychological warfare from Friday, which marks the 42nd anniversary of the declaration of a historic 1972 joint statement on peaceful reunification.
North Korea has made similar proposals in the past, but they have quickly fizzed as tension between the rivals flared again.
The latest overture is largely seen as testing whether the conservative South Korean government of President Park Geun-hye, who faces a public outcry following April's deadly ferry disaster, wants to break the deadlock in inter-Korean ties, Lim said.
The development came as tension between the rivals remains high after North Korea conducted a barrage of missile and rocket tests earlier this year. The two Koreas also exchanged artillery fire near a disputed western sea boundary.
South Korean officials said the North fired short-range projectiles and missiles into waters off its east coast on Thursday and Sunday. The North's state media later said leader Kim Jong Un inspected test launches of missile and rockets in a likely reference to the launches.