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Published: Thursday February 13, 2014 MYT 9:15:04 PM
Updated: Thursday February 13, 2014 MYT 9:16:33 PM

Kerry says North Korea should not link family reunions with exercises

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) speaks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se (R) during their meeting in Seoul February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) speaks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se (R) during their meeting in Seoul February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool

SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday military exercises with South Korea this month will be the same as drills that have been held over the years and North Korea should not link them with reunions of separated Korean families.

North Korea, which says the exercises are a rehearsal for war, demanded in rare talks with South Korean officials on Wednesday that the drills be postponed so that they do not overlap with the planned reunion of families separated since the 1950-53 Korean War.

"The United States doesn't believe it is appropriate to link humanitarian issues such as (family) reunification to any other issues," Kerry told a news conference with his South Korean counterpart when asked about the North's demand on the drills.

Earlier on Thursday, South Korea said it had rejected North Korea's demand to postpone the exercises, which had raised the possibility that the family reunions might get scrapped.

North and South Korean officials will meet again on Friday for the second round of talks at the Panmunjom truce village, the South's Unification Ministry said, adding that the meeting was again proposed by the North.

Kerry urged North Korea to abide by commitments it had made to show it was serious about re-engaging the United States in nuclear talks.

He also said China could do more to help nudge North Korea into line.

"Our belief is that China can do more now to urge North Korea to begin taking action to come into compliance with its international obligations," Kerry said. "And I will encourage China to use all of the means at its disposal to do so."

Kerry travels to China on Friday where he was expected to take up the issue of a new air defence zone declared by Beijing last year that spurred diplomatic tension with neighbouring South Korea and Japan.

China, South Korea and Japan are also involved in separate disputes over claims to offshore islands.

Kerry also urged South Korea and Japan to "put history behind them" and calm tension.

Ties between South Korea and Japan have cooled sharply recently over the territorial dispute and after Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited a Tokyo shrine for war dead, rekindling anger in South Korea and China over Japan's wartime past, which its neighbours feel it has not atoned for.

"It is critical, at the same time, that we maintain robust trilateral cooperation, particularly in the face of North Korea's nuclear threat," Kerry said, referring to the three-way ties among South Korea, Japan and the United States.

(Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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