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North Korea threatens reunion backtrack over US-South Korea drills

North Korea may reconsider a family reunion plan with South Korea due to United States military drills. The shift in stance comes after reports a US bomber undertook a training flight over South Korea.

South Korean news agency Yonhap reported a single US B-52 aircraft - capable of carrying nuclear weapons - undertook a sortie on Wednesday. The report comes fresh on the back of a cross-border agreement

allowing families separated by the Korean War to reunite from February 15 to 20.

Should it go ahead, the reunion would be the first in more than three years.

But North Korea has already demanded annual joint military exercises between South Korea and the US be scrapped, and Wednesday's B-52 flight could put the reunion agreement at risk. Criticism in South Korean media of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's decision to wear outdoor shoes while meeting orphans - a frowned upon practice in both countries - has also further strained ties since Wednesday's agreement.

"It's outrageous that [South Korea] is pushing ahead with aggressive war maneuvering at a time when both sides reached a crucial agreement to realize national reconciliation and cooperation," the statement from North Korea's National Defense Commission said on Thursday.

"As we were reaching an agreement on the separated families, B-52 bombers were engaging in nuclear strike drills against us above Korea's western sea. As long as [South Korea] hurts our dignity and slanders our regime, we can't help but reconsider fulfilling the agreement."

The statement added that "dialogue and exercises of war [and] aggression … cannot go hand in hand."

Drills to go ahead

Both South Korea and the United States responded by re-committing to the drills. "We will proceed with our drills normally, regardless of the reunions for separated families," South Korea Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said.

Speaking at a press briefing in Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she was "not at all" aware of any move to call off the drills. "These exercises occur around the same time every year and are a clear demonstration of the US commitment to the alliance [with South Korea]," she said.

ph/tj (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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