Pyongyang issued a harsh rebuke to the US defense secretary
North Korea has promised a tit-for-tat response to any security threat from Washington and Seoul, including using its "most overwhelming nuclear force." US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited South Korea this week with a promise to further expand joint military drills.
"The military and political situation in the Korean peninsula and the region has reached an extreme red line due to the reckless military confrontational maneuvers and hostile acts of the US and its vassal forces," an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a lengthy statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Thursday.
Austin visited South Korea on Tuesday to reaffirm America's "ironclad" commitment to providing a 'nuclear umbrella' to its key ally. In a editorial published by Yonhap, he revealed that the allies are "expanding the scope and scale of our combined exercises," including "increasingly complex scenario-based tabletop exercises focused on nuclear threats," in order to "increase our interoperability and readiness to 'Fight Tonight' if necessary."
Pyongyang denounced Washington's offer of the so-called "extended deterrence" to the South as a smokescreen for a military buildup that is turning the Korean peninsula into a "huge war arsenal and a more critical war zone."
"The DPRK will take the toughest reaction to any military attempt of the US, on the principle of 'nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out confrontation!'" the spokesperson said.
Last year, North Korea conducted a record number of missile launches, including multiple long range ballistic tests, calling them a response to increasingly large-scale US-South Korea wargames, which the North views as a threat to its own security and as "rehearsals" for a potential invasion.
The Pentagon chief claimed that Pyongyang's military activities only further prove the need to "remain vigilant," and pledged in a meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Jong-Sup, to "continue to deploy US strategic assets in a timely and coordinated manner in the future."
The US maintains a force of around 28,500 soldiers in South Korea, and according to Austin, it is only thanks to a massive US military presence on the peninsula that peace has been preserved there for seven decades.
North Korea's Foreign Ministry accused Washington of trying to force Pyongyang to "disarm itself unilaterally through sanctions and military pressure," adding that it "is not interested in any contact or dialogue with the US" as long as such "hostile policy" persists.