North Korea threatens nuclear strike

SEOUL, (AP) — North Korea stepped up its anti-U.S. rhetoric yesterday, accusing Washington of mounting military pressure on the regime and vowing to respond to any pre-emptive U.S. attack with an "annihilating" nuclear strike.

The threat of atomic retaliation apparently was linked to the heightened scrutiny of North Korea following reports by the United States and Japan that the reclusive state had taken steps to prepare for a test of a long-range missile.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency, citing an unidentified "analyst" with the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper, accused the U.S. of harassing Pyongyang with war exercises, a massive arms buildup and increased aerial espionage by basing new spy planes in South Korea.

"This is a grave military provocation and blackmail to the DPRK, being an indication the U.S. is rapidly pushing ahead in various fields with extremely dangerous war moves," the dispatch said.

"The army and people of the DPRK are now in full preparedness to answer a pre-emptive attack with a relentless annihilating strike and a nuclear war with a mighty nuclear deterrent," the report said.

DPRK stands for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

The report concluded by urging the U.S. to "get out of South Korea promptly." About 29,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against the communist North.

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush responded sternly yesterday, saying while it had no intention of attacking, it was determined to protect the U.S. if North Korea launched a long-range missile.

"Should North Korea take the provocative action of launching a missile the U.S. would respond appropriately, including taking measures to protect ourselves," Julie Reside, a State Department spokesperson said.

Still, Reside said, the U.S. and other countries that have negotiated with North Korea are seeking a fundamentally different relationship with the reclusive regime.