North Korea vowed "every necessary measure" Wednesday to defend itself against what it calls U.S. threats, claiming American military exercises in South Korea are a preparation to invade the communist nation.
The statement by North Korea's Foreign Ministry, however, was far less harsh than rhetoric issued by the country's military in the run-up to the annual war games that started across the South on Monday. The military has threatened South Korean passenger planes and put its troops on standby for war.
"The war maneuvers are nuclear war exercises designed to mount a pre-emptive attack" on the North, the ministry said. "Exposed to the potential threat of the U.S. and its allied forces, (the North) will take every necessary measure to protect its sovereignty."
It did not specify what the measures would be.
North Korea has long claimed that annual exercises between the U.S. and the South are rehearsals for an invasion.
Seoul and Washington say the drills are purely defensive.
On Monday, the North cut off a military hot line with the South citing the drills, causing a complete shutdown of their border and stranding hundreds of South Koreans working in a joint industrial zone in the North. Pyongyang reopened the border Tuesday, but the hot line remains suspended.
Tensions on the divided peninsula have also been running high amid fears that Pyongyang might be trying to test-fire a long-range missile capable of reaching U.S. territory.
The North claims what it is trying to launch is a satellite as part of its peaceful space program, and vowed to retaliate against any one seeking to shoot it down.
In Washington, U.S. national intelligence director Dennis Blair said he believes the North is trying to launch a satellite, but said the technology is no different from that of a long-range missile and its success means the communist nation is capable of striking the mainland U.S.
"I tend to believe that the North Koreans announced that they would do a space launch and that's what they intend," U.S. national intelligence director Dennis Blair said before a senate panel Tuesday.
"If a three stage space launch vehicle works, then that could reach not only Alaska and Hawaii but part of what the Hawaiians call the mainland and what the Alaskans call the lower forty-eight," he said.
U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials have warned Pyongyang not to go ahead with any launch _ whether it's a satellite or a missile _ noting that missiles and satellites are the same in principle and differ only in payload.