By Jeremy Herb
The North Korean army claimed Wednesday that it has final approval to launch a nuclear strike against the United States.
Agence France-Presse reported that the General Staff of the Korean People's Army said in a statement Thursday that it was formally notifying Washington that U.S. threats would be “smashed by … cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means.”
The comments from Pyongyang are the latest in a series of threats against both the United States and South Korea, as tensions have ratcheted up in the Korean Peninsula in recent weeks.
This is not the first time North Korea has threatened to strike the United States with a nuclear attack. Pyongyang, however, does not yet have the capability to launch a nuclear weapon toward U.S. soil, and most experts say the country is still years away from possessing the technology to do so.
Nonetheless, the Pentagon has taken several steps in response to the North Korean threats.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon deployed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD), an anti-ballistic missile system to Guam in what was described as a “precautionary move” to counter the North Korean threats. Last month, Hagel announced the United States would deploy 14 additional ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska.
The military has also moved two Aegis-class destroyers toward the peninsula and flown stealth B-2 bombers, B-52s and F-22s into South Korea as part of joint military exercises.
In addition to its rhetorical threats, North Korea has cut lines of communication with the South and, on Wednesday, shut down a joint industrial operation on the border.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that the North Korean threats and actions in the past few weeks present a “real and clear danger and threat.”
“We have to take those threats seriously,” Hagel said in response to an audience question after a speech Wednesday. “I think we have measured, responsible, serious responses to those threats.”