North Korea warns of ‘toughest reaction’ to allies’ drills

North Korea warns of ‘toughest reaction’ to allies’ drills

Kim Tong-hyung, The Associated Press

Posted on Wednesday, February 1, 2023 at 8:00 p.m. EST

Last updated on Wednesday, February 1, 2023 9:50 PM EST

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea on Thursday threatened the “strongest response” to the expansion of joint military exercises by the United States and South Korea to counter the North’s growing nuclear weapons ambitions, claiming the allies are taking tensions to an “extreme”. Red line.”

The Pyongyang State Department’s statement came in response to comments by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who said in Seoul on Tuesday that the United States would increase its deployment of advanced military assets, including fighter jets and aircraft carriers, on the Korean peninsula, which will strengthen joint training and Operational planning with South Korea.

South Korea’s defense ministry said the United States on Wednesday flew B-1B bombers and F-22 and F-35 fighter jets in an exercise with South Korean fighters over South Korea’s western waters to show off its recent strength. The United States and South Korea also plan to hold a simulation exercise this month aimed at tightening their response if North Korea uses nuclear weapons.

In a statement attributed to an unidentified spokesman for its State Department, North Korea said expanding allied drills threatened to turn the Korean peninsula into a “huge war arsenal and a more critical war zone.” The statement said the North was ready to meet any short- or long-term military challenge from the Allies with the “most overwhelming nuclear power”.

“The military and political situation in the Korean Peninsula and the region has reached an extreme red line due to reckless confrontational military maneuvers and hostile actions by the US and its vassal forces,” the spokesman said.

North Korea has for decades called the United States’ combined military drills with South Korea rehearsals for a possible invasion, though allies have described those drills as defensive.

North Korea stepped up its own gun demonstrations over the past year as allies resumed large-scale training that had been reduced for years. North Korea’s actions included a series of missile and artillery launches, which it described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and US targets.

“DPRK will be the harshest response to any US military attempt on the principle of ‘atom by atom and all-out confrontation for all-out confrontation!'” the North Korean spokesman said, citing the country’s official name DPRK.

“As the US continues to establish strategic assets in and around the Korean peninsula, it is imperative that the DPRK make its deterrence activities more explicit in line with their nature,” the spokesman said.

Jeon Ha Gyu, spokesman for South Korea’s defense ministry, said the ministry had not issued an immediate comment on the North Korean statement. He said the recent allied air exercises aimed to demonstrate the credibility of the US “enhanced deterrent,” referring to a commitment to deploy the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear ones, to defend South Korea. He declined to reveal the exact number of US and South Korean planes involved in the exercise.

Austin’s visit came as South Korea was seeking stronger assurances that the United States will use its nuclear capabilities swiftly and decisively to protect its ally in the face of a North Korean nuclear attack.

South Korea’s security fears have risen since North Korea tested dozens of missiles in 2022, including potentially nuclear-capable ones, aimed at hitting targets in South Korea and the US mainland. North Korea’s increased testing activities have been punctuated by threats to use its nuclear weapons pre-emptively in a variety of scenarios where its leadership deems threatened, including conventional clashes or non-war situations.

In a press conference after their meeting, Austin said he and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup had agreed to further expand their combined military exercises, including more live-fire demonstrations. They pledged to continue a “timely and coordinated” deployment of strategic US assets in the region.

They said their countries’ resumption of large-scale military exercises over the past year has effectively demonstrated their combined capabilities to deter North Korean aggression. The allies had reduced their training in recent years to make room for diplomacy with North Korea during the Trump administration and because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

South Korea and the United States have also stepped up their security cooperation with Japan, which in recent months has included trilateral anti-missile and anti-submarine drills amid North Korea’s provocative weapons tests.

“We used fifth generation aircraft, F-22 and F-35, we used a carrier strike group to visit the peninsula. You can look for more activities of this nature in the future,” Austin said.

Tensions could continue to rise in the coming months as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set to double down on his nuclear ambitions.

During a December policy conference, Kim called for an “exponential increase” in nuclear warheads, the mass production of tactical nuclear weapons for battlefields targeting South Korea, and the development of more powerful long-range missiles aimed at reaching the US mainland.

Experts say Kim’s nuclear push is aimed at forcing the United States to embrace the idea of ​​North Korea as a nuclear power and then negotiate much-needed economic concessions from a position of strength.

The US-North Korea nuclear talks have derailed since 2019 over disagreements over easing US-led economic sanctions on the North in exchange for steps by North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

The North Korean spokesman said Pyongyang is not interested in any contact or dialogue with the United States as long as it maintains its “hostile policies and confrontational line,” and accused Washington of maintaining sanctions and military pressure to force the north to “come unilaterally.” disarm.”

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