Predicting that a US invasion of Iraq was "just a matter of time," North Korea said yesterday that it could be the US military's next target and urged its armed forces to be ready for war.
The communist government in Pyongyang accuses the US of planning to send reinforcements into its coastal waters in advance of an invasion. It fired a short-range missile into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan on Monday, further escalating tension in the region.
Washington has repeatedly said it wants a peaceful solution to the standoff over North Korea's nuclear activities, but says it leaves all options open.
In a statement carried yesterday by the North's official Korean Central News Agency, Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry accused the US of planning massive war games in South Korea so it could attack the North.
"The US military strike against Iraq is just a matter of time," it said. "The ceaseless sabre-rattling staged by the US in South Korea against this backdrop is creating an extremely tense situation where it may make a pre-emptive strike at the DPRK any time."
DPRK, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is the official name of North Korea.
"This compels the army and the people of the DPRK to keep themselves in full readiness by using all means and possibilities necessary to cope with it," the statement added.
The comments were not unusual in the supercharged atmosphere of recent weeks. But coming hours after the inauguration of South Korea's new president, Roh Moo-hyun, it was a reminder of the forces that will shape his coming months in office: a hostile communist regime and a US administration determined to stop the North's suspected nuclear weapons development.
Hours before Roh's inauguration, South Korean officials announced that North Korea had fired an anti-ship missile into the sea near Japan on Monday.
Yesterday, North Korea accused an American spy plane of intruding into its territory for the second time this week and warned it would "take stern self-defense measures."