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N. Korea Irate Over Russia's Military Cooperation with US, S. Korea - 2003-08-20

Just days before six-nation talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis, Pyongyang is reacting angrily to Russia's plans to hold military exercises with South Korea and the United States. But the two Koreas are patching up a dispute on the athletic front. Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reports that North Korea has denounced Russia's naval exercises this weekend in the north Pacific.

Russia said about 70,000 military personnel aboard more than 90 ships will begin the exercises Friday. The Russian forces will link up with smaller deployments from the United States, Japan, and South Korea for joint exercises.

Itar-Tass said Pyongyang has refused an invitation to send observers. According to the report, North Korea said the exercises will lead to a "sharpening of the atmosphere on the Korean Peninsula."

Next week, Pyongyang is to participate in six-nation talks in Beijing on North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Those talks, beginning August 27, include Russia, the United States, Japan, China, and South Korea.

A senior Chinese military envoy is leading a delegation to the North Korean capital for consultations prior to the talks.

The talks aim to reconcile North Korea's demands for security guarantees and economic aid, with demands by the United States and other countries that Pyongyang immediately and verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons programs. Both countries say it is the obligation of the other side to act first.

North Korea's official news agency issued a statement rejecting the possibility of an immediate inspection of its nuclear facilities, as demanded by the United States. Pyongyang calls such an inspection a "blatant interference in its internal affairs", and said it is tantamount to a surrender to the United States.

South Korea cautioned all parties not to expect a speedy resolution to the crisis during next week's talks. The South Korean diplomat leading Seoul's delegation said his goal is to secure an agreement that further talks should be held.

Separately, the two Koreas achieved a reconciliation on the athletic front, as North Korean athletes and officials arrived in the South for the University Games.

Pyongyang had threatened to boycott the competition, which begins Thursday in Daegu, over the burning of a North Korean flag by protesters. The decision was reversed after South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun expressed regret for the protesters' behavior.