North Korea on Monday declared it would no longer be bound by the truce agreement that ended fighting in the Korean War, Kyodo News reported.
The 1953 armistice is "completely nullified from today" and North Korea's weapons are primed for use at any moment, the state-controlled Rodong Sinmun newspaper said.
Pyongyang is upset with new U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed on last week that take aim at the North's currency smuggling and other criminal enterprises as well as its ability to acquire materials for its WMD programs. The economic penalties were punishment for the country's February nuclear test -- its third in less than a decade.
North Korea since 1991 has threatened on more than six occasions to void the truce or questioned its validity, Peterson Institute for International Economics North Korea expert Stephan Haggard wrote in a recent web post. The Stalinist state in that time period, however, has only mounted small-scale conventional attacks against the South. Still, some observers are concerned the young Kim Jong Un regime might be confident enough in its nuclear deterrent to view the Korean War truce as no longer necessary, the New York Times reported on Sunday.
The North on Monday also severed a military communication line with Seoul against a backdrop of ongoing large-scale U.S.-South Korean military maneuvers, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Pyongyang's armed forces are carrying out their own maneuvers but they do not appear to represent a looming danger, according to Seoul. "There has been no unusual movement spotted in North Korea. It has been quiet so far," an unidentified South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman said.
"They’re giving all the motions to make us believe that some sort of provocation is coming,” Center for Naval Analyses North Korea specialist Ken Gause told the Washington Post. "Provocations are not necessarily imminent, but the probability is higher . . . and the ability to manage a provocation is much more difficult if they have withdrawn from the communication channels that existed under the armistice."
China on Saturday said its vote in favor of the latest Security Council sanctions did not mean it was turning its back on its longtime ally, the Times separately reported. "We always believe that sanctions are not the end of the Security Council actions, or are sanctions the fundamental way to resolve the relevant issues," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said to journalists.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in released comments on Saturday condemned the North for its recent warnings of nuclear and other attacks on South Korea and the United States, according to Reuters. He also called on the leaders of two Koreas to "discuss seriously how to encourage national reconciliation and to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula."
South Korea's new unification minister, Ryoo Kihl-jae, said his government is still prepared to engage with Pyongyang despite its bellicose rhetoric, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Monday.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration announced on Monday that the Treasury Department is blacklisting the North Korean Foreign Trade Bank -- the country's principal entity for exchanging international currency -- for its involvement in securing funds for the government's WMD programs, Reuters separately reported.
“North Korea uses FTB to facilitate transactions on behalf of actors linked to its proliferation network, which is under increasing pressure from recent international sanctions. The United States will take strong measures to protect its financial system from this type of illicit activity, and we urge financial institutions around the world to be particularly wary of the risks of doing business with FTB,” Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen said in prepared comments.
Also cited was Paek Se Bong, chairman of the North's Second Economic Committee, which has oversight of ballistic missile and other sensitive operations.
The new sanctions targets would be barred from doing business with all U.S. citizens and would lose access to any U.S-held assets.
U.S. national security advisor Tom Donilon in remarks to the Asia Society said Beijing must not carry on with "business as usual" with the North so long as it continues to endanger regional peace.