South Korea has warned the North that an attack on its territory will be met with retaliation, as tension simmers on the fractured peninsula.
Early on Saturday, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made some of his strongest threats yet, and warned an "all out war, a nuclear war" could be imminent.
This followed United Nations sanctions imposed after his country's February nuclear test and a series of joint U.S. and South Korean military drills that have included a rare U.S. show of aerial power.
And today, at a meeting of senior officials, South Korea's President Park Geun-hye said: "If there is any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be a strong response in initial combat without any political considerations."
The South has changed its rules of engagement to allow local units to respond immediately to attacks, rather than waiting for permission from Seoul.
Stung by criticism that its response to the shelling of a South Korean island in 2010 was slow and weak, South Korea's government has also threatened to target North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and to destroy statues of the ruling Kim dynasty in the event of any new attack, a plan that has outraged Pyongyang.
Seoul and its ally the United States played down Saturday's statement from the official KCNA news agency as the latest in a stream of tough talk from Pyongyang.
But there have been no signs of unusual activity in the North's military to suggest imminent aggression, a South Korean defence ministry official said last week.
Park's intervention came on the heels of a meeting of the North's ruling Workers Party Central Committee where leader Kim Jong-un rejected the notion that Pyongyang was going to use its nuclear arms development as a bargaining chip.
Yesterday the North's ruling Workers’ Party said nuclear weapons are “the nation’s life” that will not be traded even for “billions of dollars.”
North Korea has cancelled an armistice agreement with the United States that ended the Korean War (which technically never ended - there is no peace traty) and cut all hotlines with U.S. forces, the United Nations and South Korea.
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