U.S. Calls North Korean Threats Hyperbolic

North Korea’s threats of preemptive nuclear strikes are “hyperbolic,” U.S. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon said, as the totalitarian state’s leader Kim Jong Un told troops to prepare for war.

Kim yesterday told front line units that “every day is a state of war,” official media reported. North Korea shut down a border hot line and declared the 1953 armistice ending the Korean War nullified as the U.S. and South Korea began annual military drills.

“Recently, North Korean officials have made some highly provocative statements,” Donilon said yesterday at the Asia Society in New York. “North Korea’s claims may be hyperbolic -- but as to the policy of the United States, there should be no doubt. We will draw upon the full range of our capabilities to protect against, and to respond to, the threat posed to us and to our allies by North Korea.”

His comments signal U.S. skepticism over assertions that Kim’s regime possesses ballistic nuclear missiles and can target the U.S. and South Korea. Tensions on the Korean peninsula are at the highest since at least 2010 after North Korea last week threatened atomic attacks in response to tightened United Nations sanctions for its February nuclear test.

President Barack Obama’s administration, while open to talks with North Korea, “will not play the game of accepting empty promises or yielding to threats,” Donilon said.

Obama-Park Summit

Obama will meet new South Korean President Park Geun Hye at the White House in early May to discuss the North Korean threat and mark the 60th anniversary of the alliance, Park spokesman Yoon Chang Jung told reporters today in Seoul.

South Korea’s won closed near a four-month low against the dollar on rising tensions. The benchmark Kospi Index fell 0.5 percent to 1,933.34.

While North Korea has cut the border phone line before, its technological advances has increased the possibility of more provocations, George A. Lopez, a former UN sanctions investigator on North Korea, said in an e-mail.

“What I worry most about is that in the past the bluster from DPRK was not really matched by much capability,” said Lopez, a professor at the University of Notre Dame. “Now DPRK defiance of sanctions can be played out in a big way via a new nuke test or missile launch or both.”

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

Combat-Ready North

The Kim regime successfully fired a long-range rocket in December and detonated what it described as a “smaller and light” nuclear device two months later. It has yet to demonstrate the technology needed to put an atomic weapon on a ballistic missile.

North Korea is combat-ready with strategic rockets and “diversified surgical nuclear strike mechanisms,” the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper said yesterday. said.

During a visit to a front-line artillery post on North Korea’s Wolnae Islet, Kim expressed confidence in the unit’s ability to turn South Korea’s Baengnyeong Island into “a sea of fire,” the official Korean Central News Agency said.

The location is significant because 46 South Korean seamen died in March 2010 after the naval ship Cheonan sank in waters near Baengnyeong, about 210 kilometers (130 miles) northwest of Seoul. While an international panel said the North torpedoed the ship, the Pyongyang government denied any involvement.

Mass Drill

North Korea will stage a mass military drill on its eastern coast soon, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said at a briefing in Seoul today. The South advises its people not to get nervous, he said.

South Korea and the U.S. yesterday began their “Key Resolve” exercise. While no unusual North Korean troop movements have been spotted, the country will probably respond with its own military exercises soon, Defense Ministry spokesman Kim told reporters yesterday.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on North Korea to continue to respect the 1953 armistice, according to his spokesman Martin Nesirky. In any event, neither side can unilaterally abandon the accord because it was adopted by the UN General Assembly, he told reporters in New York. The U.S. has taken the similar position in response to North Korea’s statements.

In Washington, the U.S. Treasury Department yesterday froze any U.S. assets of North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank, saying the institution facilitates transactions linked to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. North Korea’s primary foreign exchange bank “facilitated millions of dollars in transactions” which benefited the country’s premier arms dealer, Korea Mining Development Corp., the Treasury said a statement.

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