SEOUL — North Korea warned Saturday that it will respond with "powerful nuclear deterrence" to joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises poised to begin this weekend, saying the drills amount to a provocation that cannot be ignored.
North Korea routinely threatens war when South Korea and the U.S. hold joint military drills, which Pyongyang sees as a rehearsal for an attack on the North. The latest threat comes amid increased tensions on the peninsula over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship that Seoul and Washington blame on Pyongyang. The allies' defense chiefs announced earlier in the week they would stage the drills to send a clear message to North Korea to stop its "aggressive" behavior. Forty-six South Korean sailors were killed in the March sinking of the Cheonan, considered the worst military attack on the South since the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korea vehemently denies any involvement and says any punishment would trigger war. On Saturday, North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission — headed by leader Kim Jong Il — backed that threat up by promising a "retaliatory sacred war" against South Korea and the U.S. for what it called a second "unpardonable" provocation after wrongly accusing the North in the Cheonan incident.
"The army and people of the (North) will legitimately counter with their powerful nuclear deterrence the largest-ever nuclear war exercises," the commission said in a statement carried by the country's official Korean Central News Agency. A day earlier in Hanoi, a North Korean spokesman for the delegation attending a regional security conference warned the drills would draw a "physical response" from Pyongyang. South Korea's Defense Ministry said no unusual North Korean military movements were detected.