North Korea on Monday issued its latest belligerent threat, warning of an indiscriminate "preemptive nuclear strike of justice" on Washington and Seoul, this time in reaction to the start of huge U.S.-South Korean military drills.
Such threats have been a staple of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un since he took power after his dictator father's death in December 2011. But they increase especially when Washington and Seoul stage what they call annual defensive springtime war games. The government in Pyongyang says the drills, which started Monday and run through the end of April, are invasion rehearsals.
The North's powerful National Defense Commission threatened strikes against targets in the South, U.S. bases in the Pacific and the U.S. mainland, saying its enemies "are working with bloodshot eyes to infringe upon the dignity, sovereignty and vital rights" of North Korea.
"If we push the buttons to annihilate the enemies even right now, all bases of provocations will be reduced to seas in flames and ashes in a moment," the North's statement said.
Responding to the North's threat, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said Monday that North Korea must refrain from a "rash act that brings destruction upon itself."
In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. takes the North Korean threats seriously. He called on Pyongyang to cease provocative rhetoric and behavior.
"There would not be as compelling a reason to prepare for alliance capabilities," Kirby said at a news briefing, "if Pyongyang wasn't so intent on raising the stakes on the peninsula" and decreasing any sense of security and stability there.
This year's war games will be the largest staged, involving 300,000 South Korean and 17,000 U.S. troops.