South Korea's Unification Ministry quickly released a statement calling the latest threat not new and saying it is a follow-up to Kim's earlier order to put troops on a high alert in response to annual U.S-South Korean defense drills. Pyongyang sees those drills as rehearsals for an invasion.
On Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned his forces were ready "to settle accounts with the U.S." after two American B-2 bombers flew a training mission in South Korea.
Analysts say a full-scale conflict is unlikely and even suicidal for Pyongyang and the threats are aimed at drawing Washington into talks. But the threats from North Korea and rising animosity from the rivals that have followed U.N. sanctions over Pyongyang's Feb. 12 nuclear test do raise worries of a misjudgment leading to a clash.
On Friday at the main square in Pyongyang, tens of thousands of North Koreans turned out for a 90-minute mass rally in support of Kim's call to arms. Small North Korean warships, including patrol boats, conducted maritime drills off both coasts of North Korea near the border with South Korea earlier this week, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in a briefing Friday. He didn't provide details.
The spokesman said that South Korea's military was mindful of the possibility that North Korean drills could lead to an actual provocation. He said that the South Korean and U.S. militaries are watching closely for any signs of missile launch preparations in North Korea. He didn't elaborate.
Pyongyang uses the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a justification for its own push for nuclear weapons. It claims that U.S. nuclear firepower is a threat to its existence and provocation.