North Korean leader Kim Jong-un yesterday ordered missile units to prepare to strike the US mainland and military bases, vowing to “settle accounts” after US stealth bombers flew over South Korea.
The order came after US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, with tensions soaring on the Korean Peninsula, said Washington would not be cowed by Pyongyang’s bellicose threats and stood ready to respond to “any eventuality.”
Kim directed his rocket units on standby at an overnight emergency meeting with top army commanders, hours after nuclear-capable US B-2 stealth bombers were deployed in ongoing US joint military drills with South Korea.
In the event of any “reckless” US provocation, North Korean forces should “mercilessly strike the US mainland ... military bases in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea,” he was quoted as saying by the Korean Central News Agency.
While North Korea has no proven ability to conduct such strikes, Kim said: “The time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists.”
The youthful leader argued that the stealth bomber flights went beyond a simple demonstration of force and amounted to a US “ultimatum that they will ignite a nuclear war at any cost.”
A South Korean military official quoted by Yonhap news agency said a “sharp increase” in personnel and vehicle movement had been detected at the North’s mid and long-range missile sites.
The South Korean defense ministry declined to confirm the report, saying only that all strategic sites in the North were under intense South Korean and US surveillance.
Tens of thousands of North Korean soldiers and civilians held a huge rally and march in Pyongyang yesterday, in support of a possible military strike against the US.
State television said the rally took place to support the decision to put the country’s strategic rocket units on a war footing.
China, North Korea’s sole major ally and biggest trading partner, appealed for calm and said “joint efforts” were needed from all parties to prevent the situation deteriorating further.
Russia said that the heightened military activity near North Korea was slipping into a “vicious cycle” that could get out of control, implicitly criticizing the US bomber flights over South Korea.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that North Korea should also cool down, calling on “all sides not to flex their military muscle” and avoid the danger of a belligerent response.