SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea issued another threat Monday, warning of an indiscriminate "pre-emptive 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 young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un since he took power after his dictator father's death in December 2011. But they spike especially when Washington and Seoul stage springtime war games. Pyongyang says the drills, which began 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.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang Gyun said that North Korea must refrain from a "rash act that brings destruction upon itself."
This year's war games will be the largest ever staged, involving 300,000 South Korean and 17,000 U.S. troops. South Korea's Yonhap news agency, citing military sources, reported that the allies will work on drills for precision attacks on North Korean leadership and its nuclear and missile arsenal in the event of war.
There is considerable debate about whether North Korea is capable of the kind of "strikes" it threatens. The North makes progress with each new nuclear test — it staged its fourth in January — but many experts say its arsenal may consist only of still-crude nuclear bombs; there's uncertainty about whether they've mastered the miniaturization process needed to mount bombs on long-range missiles and widespread doubt about whether they have a reliable missile that could deliver such a bomb to the U.S. mainland.
The United Nations recently slapped the North with harsh sanctions, and South Korea has taken a harder than usual line, with a new North Korean human rights law and the president in Seoul warning of a collapsed government in Pyongyang. South Korea says it will announce new unilateral sanctions Tuesday.