SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea stepped up its campaign Wednesday to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington over the nuclear standoff, as South Korea's Defense Ministry called for a stronger alliance with the United States.
Pyongyang kept silent on a new U.S. offer of dialogue to discuss curbing its nuclear weapons program.
Instead, it said there is an "increasing danger of a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula" because of the United States, and urged the Koreas to "pool their efforts and condemn and frustrate the U.S. nuclear policy for aggression."
"It is plain to everyone that if a nuclear war breaks out in Korea, it will bring catastrophic disasters to the Koreans in both parts of Korea," said a commentary by the KCNA, North Korea's state-run news agency.
Under a New Year's policy push, North Korea has been urging more cooperation with South Korea in an apparent attempt to drive a wedge between the South and its key ally, the United States.
On Thursday, North Korea proposed pushing back cabinet-level meetings with South Korea. Seoul had suggested the neighboring Koreas hold talks Jan. 14-17 in the South Korean capital to discuss a peaceful resolution to the nuclear dispute.
North Korea now wants to postpone them by a week to Jan. 21-24, the South Korean Unification Ministry said Thursday. The North gave no reason for delaying the talks.
The South's Defense Ministry is advocating the continued presence of U.S. troops in South Korea, saying their withdrawal "could send foreign investors flooding out of the country in fear of instability, throw the economy into turmoil and give North Korea a chance for provocation."
"North Korea tries to weaken the South Korea-U.S. alliance's capability of deterring war," it said in a commentary in the January issue of its monthly newsletter Defense News, distributed Wednesday.
South Korea must strengthen its alliance with Washington not only to check North Korea but also to protect its security in Northeast Asia, a region with a history of conflicts, it said.
The commentary was seen as an attempt by the ministry to counter demands by some South Koreans that the United States remove its 37,000 troops from South Korea to ease tension and accelerate reconciliation between the Koreas.
South Korea also dismissed as propaganda the North's attempts to divide the allies while welcoming the apparent softening in Washington.
Ending two days of consultations in Washington with Japan and South Korea, Washington said Tuesday it was willing to talk to Pyongyang but would not make concessions. Previously, the United States said it would not talk to North Korea unless Pyongyang first scraps its nuclear weapons programs.
In Tokyo, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, said the three allies "are prepared for discussions" with North Korea.
Lee Tae-shik, the chief South Korean delegate to the Washington talks, urged North Korea to accept the U.S. overture.
"North Korea's open willingness to abandon its nuclear programs should be the starting point for dialogue," Lee was quoted as saying by South Korea's Yonhap news.
The European Union, in a statement released in Greece, urged North Korea "to dismantle immediately any nuclear weapons program in a visible and verifiable manner."
The EU also granted nearly $10 million in humanitarian aid to North Korea on Wednesday to make up for recent cutbacks by the United States and Japan.
"A significant proportion of North Korea's population of 23 million faces food shortages and the situation is likely to worsen during the winter," EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Poul Nielson said in a statement issued in Brussels.
The aid will raise the EU's emergency assistance to North Korea to nearly $62.2 million since 1996.
North Korea accuses Washington of using the North's recent decision to reactivate its nuclear facilities as an excuse for a pre-emptive nuclear attack. North Korea claims the facilities are necessary to generate electricity.
While Washington fears the plants could be used to build bombs, it has repeatedly said it has no intention of invading.
In South Korea, South Korean military veterans and housewives at a pro-U.S. rally on Wednesday burned an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il clinging to a missile.
"Long live the South Korea-U.S. solidarity!" the 400 demonstrators chanted in front of a U.S. Air Force base south of Seoul.
North Korea alarmed the world by taking steps in December to reactivate nuclear facilities frozen under a deal with Washington in 1994.
The country has since expelled U.N. monitors and threatened to quit the global nuclear arms control treaty. The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency this week decided to give the North "one more chance" to honor international safeguards obligations.