North Korean state media have reported that leader Kim Jong-un has ordered his top generals to put missile units on stand-by. The claim follows the deployment of two US B-2 stealth bombers to the region.
The report from the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) claimed that Kim Jong-un had ordered the country's military leaders to put missile units on stand-by. KCNA said they would target US military bases in South Korea and the Pacific, though it also said they were to fire only in retaliation.
"If they make a reckless provocation with huge strategic forces, the Korean People's Army should mercilessly strike the US mainland, their stronghold, their military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea," KCNA quoted Kim Jong-un as saying, in a report that could not be verified.
The English language news portal said that the North Korean leader "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists in view of the prevailing situation."
The article referred to the arrival of two nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers in the region as an "ultimatum that they will ignite a nuclear war at any cost."
Two tense months
The two stealth bombers flew over the peninsula on Thursday as part of ongoing US-South Korean military drills, with the Pentagon saying the exercise demonstrated the US ability to conduct "long-range, precision strikes quickly and at will."
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon that the US would be prepared to deal with any eventuality, also criticizing Pyongyang for its more threatening rhetoric since the start of the US-South Korean joint drills.
"The North Koreans have to understand that what they're doing is very dangerous," Hagel said. "We must make clear that these provocations by the North are taken very seriously and we'll respond to that.
North Korea conducted a nuclear test on February 12, prompting fresh sanctions from the United Nations. Since the start of this month's military drills in the South, the government in Pyongyang has become particularly vocal. On Wednesday, the North said it had shut down a military hotline with the South, a connection thought officially to be the last open line of contact. The government in Seoul, which says its joint operations with the US are routine, has called for the hotline to be reopened.
msh/pfd (AFP, AP, Reuters)