SEOUL, South Korea — The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross is visiting North Korea to discuss proposed reunions of families separated by the Korean War and other humanitarian issues.
Peter Maurer arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday and was to go to South Korea on Friday to speak to officials there. The Red Cross says Maurer is its first president to make a combined visit to both countries on the Korean peninsula in 21 years.
Working-level talks have been proposed for Friday on holding a reunion next month of families still separated 60 years after the war. The South Korean president's proposal was widely seen as an attempt to further ease tensions that escalated earlier this year.
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North Korea on Tuesday criticized South Korea-U.S. military drills with milder-than-usual language that is being seen as a sign of its interest in keeping up diplomacy.
North Korea typically speaks with warlike rhetoric against any South Korea-U.S. exercises because it considers them as a rehearsal for invasion. But it has not made any such harsh statements against the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills the United States and South Korea began Monday.
On Tuesday, Pyongyang's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea called the training "big anti-(North Korea) war drills" and warned South Korea could face "uncontrollably catastrophic consequence." It did not elaborate.
An unidentified North Korean committee spokesman also accused South Korea's President Park Geun-hye of making "bellicose remarks" Monday by calling for a military readiness to ensure peace. The spokesman said via state media that Park's comments "chill the hard-won atmosphere for dialogue" between the Koreas.
Park's office didn't confirm the comments attributed to her, but the South's Unification Ministry called the North's criticism of the drills "the same old" rhetoric and urged the country to act responsibly.
North Korea has made similar threats in the past, and Tuesday's language is not as intimidating as its previous rhetoric such as threats of nuclear wars the country made during springtime drills between the allies.
The Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills that continue until Aug. 30 are computer-simulated war games involving 30,000 American and 50,000 South Korean troops, according to South Korea's Defense Ministry and the U.S. military command in Seoul.
There have recently been signs of an easing in the high tension on the divided peninsula, with Pyongyang ratcheting down its rhetoric and pursuing dialogues with Seoul and Washington. But some analysts in South Korea are wary of the North's intentions, saying Pyongyang often follows provocations and threats with a charm offensive meant to win aid.
South Korea's Unification Ministry on Tuesday also responded to a proposal by the North to discuss a stalled tourism project at a North Korean mountain resort, but said the talks should be held next month instead of this week.
The North had proposed meeting Thursday to discuss restarting lucrative tours for South Koreans to Diamond Mountain, one day before they hold a working-level meeting on reunions for families separated by war.
Tours to the resort were a source of hard currency for North Korea until they were suspended in 2008 after a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier.
The ministry proposed in a statement that the tours be discussed on Sept. 25, saying it should be dealt with separately from the family reunions. There was no immediate response from Pyongyang.
AP writer Youkyung Lee contributed to this report.