North threatens nuclear strikes

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North threatens nuclear strikes

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A U-2S high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft lands at the U.S. military’s Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, on Monday. South Korea and the United States kicked off their largest-ever joint military exercises on Monday despite North Korea’s protests. [NEWSIS]

North Korea warned Monday that it would launch a “preemptive and offensive nuclear strike” against South Korea and the United States over their annual military exercises, while Seoul vowed a merciless response against any provocations from the North.

“As the joint military exercises to be staged by the enemies are regarded as the most undisguised nuclear war drills aimed to infringe upon the sovereignty of the DPRK, its military counteraction will be more preemptive and offensive,” North Korea’s National Defense Commission said in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

DPRK is short for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea.

The North’s defense commission said it had a military operation plan to attack South Korea and strike the U.S. mainland, adding that South Korea is within its firing range and its nuclear capabilities can reach U.S. military bases in Asia and as far as the U.S. mainland.

“If we push the buttons to annihilate the enemies even right now, all bases of provocations will be reduced to seas of flames and ashes in a moment,” it said.

North Korea has a history of harsh remarks against the annual joint military drills between Seoul and Washington, denouncing the drills as practices for war or an invasion.

The North has also blasted new UN sanctions that aim to curtail its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are likely to remain high, as bellicose North Korean rhetoric is sometimes followed by bloodshed, such as the killing of 46 South Koreans in a torpedo attack on the South Korean Cheonan warship in March 2010. Pyongyang denies that attack.

A spokesman for the South’s Ministry of National Defense hit back Monday saying the South Korean military would make a firm and merciless response to any provocations, urging North Korea to stop its self-destructive comments and actions.

Seoul and Washington started the large-scale military drills Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, which involve 300,000 South Korean and 17,000 American troops along with powerful U.S. military assets. The two allies will carry out the exercises throughout the end of April.

Since North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and a long-range missile test on Feb. 7, Washington has sent key military assets to strengthen deterrence, including the nuclear aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, the assault landing ship USS Bonhomme Richard, the nuclear-powered submarine USS North Carolina, F-22 Raptors and nuclear-capable B-2 bombers.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday called for additional sanctions on North Korea.

“Now, the most important thing is to thoroughly implement the Security Council sanctions to make sure that North Korea will abandon its nuclear program and move toward change,” Park said in a meeting with chief secretaries at the Blue House.

Park urged top aides to closely cooperate with UN members so that they can thoroughly implement sanctions and bring new bilateral and multilateral sanctions.

Park’s comments came ahead of South Korea’s announcement of its own independent sanctions against Pyongyang, following up on the UN Security Council resolution to punish North Korea for its fourth nuclear test and a long-range missile launch.

The Minister of the Office for Government Policy Coordination will disclose a set of sanctions today at 3 p.m.

South Korea is likely to blacklist North Koreans and entities suspected of engaging in developing weapons of mass destruction. It is also likely to ban the entry of vessels that have traveled through North Korea.

The UN Security Council last week unanimously adopted a resolution to dramatically expand sanctions that includes mandatory inspection of all cargo going in and out of North Korea and bans on trade in conventional weapons and mineral resources.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) said Monday that it will hold an emergency national cybersecurity meeting on Tuesday to check on the government’s readiness against escalated threats of North Korean cyberattacks.

The NIS said the meeting will focus on countering the North’s hacking attacks on the South’s state infrastructure networks and smartphones.

The intelligence service said the threat of cyberattacks is higher than ever, as the North has warned of consequences for the latest international sanctions.

BY KIM SO-HEE [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]

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