Upset over the raft of new international sanctions heading its way, North Korea on Thursday said it would respond to the "act of war" by firing nuclear weapons at South Korea and the United States, the New York Times reported.
The U.N. Security Council on Thursday approved a new sanctions resolution intended to severely curb the Stalinist state's access to the hard foreign currency it has relied on to prop up the Kim dynasty and to finance its nuclear weapons development. The measure is a response to the North's third nuclear test, carried out at Punggye-ri last month.
"Now that the U.S. is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war, the revolutionary armed forces of the D.P.R.K. will exercise the right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country," a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement issued ahead of the U.N. action.
Though Pyongyang frequently makes extravagant threats of nuclear consequences for the South and the United States, it has never before threatened to carry out a first nuclear strike, according to the Times.
North Korea is not presently believed to have the ability to hit the mainland United States with nuclear-armed missiles though it does have a sizeable arsenal of medium-range ballistic missiles capable of striking all areas in the South. Whether those missiles can be loaded with a nuclear warhead is questionable.
The Foreign Ministry also repeated the warning that Pyongyang will cease honoring the 1953 truce agreement that halted Korean War hostilities and said its armed forces were allowed to "take military actions for self-defense against any target any moment."
The South Korean government is concerned the North might carry out a new attack aimed at assessing how prepared the new administration of President Park Geun-hye is to retaliate with military force.
The North is gearing up for an unusually large military exercise, Reuters reported on Wednesday. "It hasn't been frequent that the North conducted military exercise at the state level," South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said. "The North is currently conducting various drills on land, at sea and aerially."
"We are watching the North's activities and stepping up readiness under the assumption that these drills can lead to provocation at any time," he added.
The White House on Thursday said it was "fully capable" of responding to any North Korean missile strike on the United States, Reuters separately reported.
The Security Council agreed without dissent to penalize the North for its Feb. 12 nuclear test, as it did following Pyongyang's underground atomic blasts in 2006 and 2009, Reuters reported. The new action "sent an unequivocal message to (North Korea) that the international community will not tolerate its pursuit of nuclear weapons," said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
"These sanctions will bite and bite hard," added U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. Addressing Pyongang's latest nuclear threats, Rice said “North Korea will achieve nothing by continued threats and provocations," the New York Times reported.
The resolution places two more North Korean entities and three persons on the U.N. sanctions blacklist, according to the Associated Press. The entities and individuals are involved in the country's missile and nuclear weapons programs. It also calls for stepped-up monitoring of cargo heading into or out of the nation and cites yachts and other specific luxury goods that cannot be exported to the North.
The resolution castigates the aspiring nuclear power for its February detonation "in the strongest terms"; demands a halt to ballistic missile firings and nuclear trials; and censures all of its atomic endeavors, including uranium enrichment. The document, though, emphasizes the U.N. body's desire for a "peaceful diplomatic and political solution" and calls for a return to the six-nation aid-for-denuclearization negotiations that have not been held since late 2008.
It adds that further North Korean nuclear or ballistic missile tests would lead to additional U.N. punishment, the Washington Post reported.
China's level of adherence is seen as key to determining whether the sanctions prove effective. Beijing is Pyongyang's sole major ally and leading economic benefactor.
New sanctions probably will not be enough to cause Pyongyang to halt its nuclear weapons development, according to Reuters.
"They will never give up their (nuclear) intercontinental ballistic missile plans," National Defense University security policy professor Kim Yeon-su said in an interview. "Their stance on this is very firm."