North Korea's foreign minister says in an interview with The Associated Press that his country is ready to halt its nuclear tests if the United States suspends its annual military exercises with South Korea.

He also defended the country's right to maintain a nuclear deterrent and warned that North Korea won't be cowed by international sanctions.

Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong, in his first interview with a Western news organization, held firm Saturday to Pyongyang's longstanding position that the U.S. drove his country to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent. At the same time, he suggested that suspending the military exercises could open the door to reduced tensions.

"Stop the nuclear war exercises in the Korean Peninsula, then we should also cease our nuclear tests," he said.