By Meghashyam Mali - 03/30/13 12:57 PM EDT
North Korea said Saturday that it was entering a “state of war” against the South, escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula.
“From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly,” said a statement from Pyongyang’s official news agency KCNA.
“We will first target and dissolve mainland United States, Hawaii and Guam, and United States military based in South Korea,” said North Korea.
The declaration from the North is the latest salvo as Pyongyang ratchets up its rhetoric in anger at heightened UN sanctions implemented after the regime conducted its third nuclear test, and amid military exercises between South Korea and the U.S.
Last week, North Korea shut off a military hotline with the South, a direct line of communication, and earlier in the month threatened to hit the U.S. with a nuclear weapon and declared the armistice halting the Korean war void. On Friday, reports said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had placed his missile units on standby.
But experts believe that despite the threats, renewed war between the Koreas is unlikely.
GOP lawmakers, though, are pressing for the administration to do more to rein in Pyongyang, with the House set to consider new legislation which would punish banks that do business with the regime.
The administration has sought to tighten the screws on North Korea through international sanctions.
The White House has called on Korea to temper its rhetoric and focus on multilateral talks over the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Thursday called the rising tensions “very dangerous,” but made clear the U.S. was prepared to respond to any threat from the North.
“We must make clear that these provocations by the North are taken by us very seriously and we'll respond to that,” said Hagel, who initiated plans to beef up U.S. missile defenses in Alaska.
“The latest dangerous threats from North Korea further illustrate the importance of Alaska’s missile defense system,” said Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) in a statement on Saturday. “If these words turn out to be more than just chest-thumping, Alaska’s 49th Missile Battalion at Fort Greely stand ready with the resources they need to defend us.”
The Pentagon also responded on Thursday by ordering two B-2 bombers to take part in military exercises in South Korea. The bombers flew on a continuous round-trip mission from Washington state to Korea and back, in a show of U.S. military force.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the drill was an important signal that he U.S. would “stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies in South Korea."
This story was updated at 11:46 a.m.