North Korea has lambasted South Korea and the United States over their joint military exercises, saying the drills have pushed the situation on the Korean peninsula to an “extreme red line” and have threatened to turn the region into a “huge war arsenal and a more critical war zone”.
The North Korean statement, issued on Thursday, also threatened the “toughest” response and said Pyongyang was not interested in dialogue as long as Washington pursued what it called “hostile” policies.
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The warning from Pyongyang came days after the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, visited Seoul and pledged to increase Washington’s deployment of advanced military assets to the Korean Peninsula, including fighter jets and aircraft carriers, as it strengthens joint training and operational planning with South Korea.
The North Korean statement, attributed to an unidentified spokesperson of its Foreign Ministry, said the expansion of the allies’ drills is threatening to turn the Korean Peninsula into a “huge war arsenal and a more critical war zone”. The statement said Pyongyang is prepared to counter any short-term or long-term military challenge by the allies with the “most overwhelming nuclear force”.
“The military and political situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region has reached an extreme red line due to the reckless military confrontational manoeuvres and hostile acts of the US and its vassal forces,” the spokesperson said.
The “DPRK will take the toughest reaction to any military attempt of the US on the principle of ‘nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out confrontation!’” the spokesperson said, referring to the country by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“If the US continues to introduce strategic assets into the Korean Peninsula and its surrounding area, the DPRK will make clearer its deterring activities without fail according to their nature,” the spokesperson added.
North Korea for decades has described the US’s combined military exercises with South Korea as rehearsals for a potential invasion, although the allies have described those drills as defensive. North Korea last year ramped up its own weapons demonstrations as the allies resumed their large-scale training that had been downsized for years.
North Korea’s actions included a slew of missile and artillery launches that it described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and US targets.
Jeon Ha Gyu, a spokesperson for South Korea’s defence ministry, said the ministry had no immediate comment in response to the North Korean statement.
He said the allies’ latest aerial drills – which took place on Wednesday and involved the US’s B-1B bombers and F-22 and F-35 fighter jets – were aimed at demonstrating the credibility of the US “extended deterrence”, referring to a commitment to use the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear ones, to defend South Korea.
He declined to reveal the exact number of South Korean and US aircraft involved in the exercise.
South Korea in recent months has sought stronger assurances that the US will swiftly and decisively use its nuclear capabilities to protect its ally in the face of a North Korean nuclear attack. More than 28,500 US troops are based in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
During a political conference in December, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for an “exponential increase” in nuclear warheads, mass production of battlefield tactical nuclear weapons targeting South Korea, and the development of more powerful long-range missiles designed to reach the US mainland.
Experts say Kim’s nuclear push is aimed at forcing the US to accept the idea of North Korea as a nuclear power and then negotiating badly needed economic concessions from a position of strength.
Nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the US have been derailed since 2019 because of disagreements over a relaxation of Washington-led economic sanctions against North Korea in exchange for steps by Pyongyang to wind down its nuclear weapons and missile programmes.
The North Korean spokesperson said Pyongyang was not interested in any contact or dialogue with the US as long as it maintains its “hostile policy and confrontational line”, accusing Washington of maintaining sanctions and military pressure to force North Korea to “disarm itself unilaterally”.