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N. Korea: Overwhelming Nuclear Force   02/02 06:04

   North Korea said Thursday it's prepared to counter U.S. military moves with 
the "most overwhelming nuclear force" as it warned that the expansion of the 
United States' military exercises with rival South Korea is pushing tensions to 
an "extreme red line."

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea said Thursday it's prepared to 
counter U.S. military moves with the "most overwhelming nuclear force" as it 
warned that the expansion of the United States' military exercises with rival 
South Korea is pushing tensions to an "extreme red line."

   The statement by Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry came in response to comments 
by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said Tuesday in Seoul that the 
United States would increase its deployment of advanced military assets to the 
Korean Peninsula, including fighter jets and aircraft carriers, as it 
strengthens joint training and operational planning with South Korea.

   South Korea's security jitters have risen since North Korea test-fired 
dozens of missiles in 2022, including potentially nuclear-capable ones designed 
to strike targets in South Korea and the U.S. mainland.

   In a statement attributed to an unidentified spokesperson of its Foreign 
Ministry, North Korea said the expansion of the allies' drills is threatening 
to turn the Korean Peninsula into a "huge war arsenal and a more critical war 
zone." The statement said the North is prepared to counter any short- or 
long-term military challenge with the "most overwhelming nuclear force."

   "The military and political situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the 
region has reached an extreme red line due to the reckless military 
confrontational maneuvers and hostile acts of the U.S. and its vassal forces," 
the spokesperson said.

   North Korea for decades has described the United States' combined military 
exercises with South Korea as rehearsals for a potential invasion, although the 
allies have described those drills as defensive.

   South Korea's Defense Ministry said the United States flew B-1B bombers and 
F-22 and F-35 fighter jets in an exercise Wednesday with South Korean fighters 
above South Korea's western waters. The United States and South Korea are also 
planning to a joint simulation this month aimed at sharpening their response if 
North Korea uses nuclear weapons.

   The North Korean statement portends another provocative run in weapons 
demonstrations in 2023, similar to how the North ramped up its own weapons 
launches in 2022 as the allies resumed their large-scale training. North 
Korea's actions included a slew of missile and artillery launches that it 
described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and U.S. targets.

   "DPRK will take the toughest reaction to any military attempt of the U.S. on 
the principle of 'nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out 
confrontation!'" the North Korean spokesperson said, invoking the country's 
formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

   "If the U.S. continues to introduce strategic assets into the Korean 
Peninsula and its surrounding area, the DPRK will make clearer its deterring 
activities without fail according to their nature," the spokesperson said.

   When asked about the North Korean statement in the Philippines on Thursday, 
Austin said the United States is "very serious" about its commitment to 
defending South Korea and will continue to work alongside its allies and "train 
and ensure that we maintain credible and ready forces."

   Ahn Eunju, spokesperson of South Korea's Foreign Ministry, said North 
Korea's expansion of its nuclear weapons and missile program and verbal threats 
of preemptive nuclear attacks have forced Seoul to react sternly to ensure the 
protection of its citizens.

   "North Korea is the one that's elevating tensions on the Korean Peninsula by 
rejecting dialogue offers from South Korea and the United States and making 
nuclear and missile provocations and threats," she said, urging Pyongyang to 
return to denuclearization talks.

   Jeon Ha Gyu, spokesperson of South Korea's Defense Ministry, said the 
allies' latest aerial drills were aimed at demonstrating the credibility of the 
U.S. "extended deterrence," referring to a commitment to use the full range of 
its military capabilities, including nuclear ones, to defend South Korea. He 
declined to reveal the exact number of U.S. and South Korean aircraft involved 
in the exercise.

   In a news conference following their meeting on Tuesday, Austin said he and 
South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup agreed to further expand their 
combined military exercises, including more live-fire demonstrations. They 
pledged to continue a "timely and coordinated" deployment of U.S. strategic 
assets to the region.

   The allies had previously downsized their training in recent years to create 
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 been strengthening their 
security cooperation with Japan, which recently included trilateral missile 
defense and anti-submarine warfare exercises during a provocative run in North 
Korean weapons tests.

   "We deployed fifth-generation aircraft, F-22s and F-35s, we deployed a 
carrier strike group to visit the peninsula. You can look for more of that kind 
of activity going forward," Austin said.

   Tensions could further rise with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un doubling 
down on his nuclear ambitions.

   During a political conference in December, Kim called for an "exponential 
increase" in nuclear warheads, mass production of battlefield tactical nuclear 
weapons targeting South Korea, and the development of more powerful long-range 
missiles designed to reach the U.S. mainland.

   Kim could showcase his growing arsenal of nuclear-capable missiles next week 
as commercial satellite images indicate preparations for a huge military parade 
in capital Pyongyang, likely for the 75th founding anniversary of its army that 
falls on Feb. 8.

   Experts say Kim's nuclear push is aimed at forcing the United States to 
accept the idea of North Korea as a nuclear power so it can negotiate badly 
needed economic concessions from a position of strength. Nuclear negotiations 
between the U.S. and North Korea stopped in 2019 because of disagreements over 
a relaxation of U.S.-led economic sanctions against the North in exchange for 
steps by North Korea to wind down its nuclear weapons and missiles programs.

   The North Korean spokesperson said Pyongyang isn't interested in any contact 
or dialogue with the United States as long as it maintains its "hostile policy 
and confrontational line," saying Washington is trying to force Pyongyang to 
"disarm itself unilaterally."

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