South Korea upped the ante Wednesday after Pyongyang threatened to scrap the armistice that ended a brutal war between the rival neighbors in 1953, promising retaliation for any North Korean attack.
"If North Korea carries out provocations that threaten the lives and safety of South Koreans, our military will carry out strong and resolute retaliations," South Korea's Gen. Kim Yong-hyun told reporters in Seoul.
Kim's remarks came in direct response to a North Korean threat to attack South Korea and the United States if the two countries continue joint military exercises in the region that began March 1.
North Korea's Military Command announced Tuesday that it would "launch surgical strikes at any time and any target without being bounded by the armistice accord."
The two sides have remained technically at war for the past 60 years because the agreement in 1953 to end hostilities in the Korean War was a simple armistice and not a formal peace treaty.
But tensions have risen even further in the past year following a change in leadership in North Korea that ushered in Kim Jong Un, 30, to replace his late father, Kim Jong Il. Since then, Pyongyang has moved ahead with a series of provocative nuclear weapon and ballistic missile tests that have drawn international condemnation.
The U.S. has led the effort to clamp down on the North's nuclear ambitions, and on Tuesday, Washington introduced a U.N. Security Council resolution to target the North's cash transfers. China, which until recently has stood by longtime ally Pyongyang, has agreed to sign on to the new resolution. The resolution is expected to be formally adopted later this week.
Meanwhile, Reuters, quoting South Korea's Yonhap news agency, reports that the North appears to be preparing its own military exercises or a possible ballistic missile test:
"North Korea has set no-fly and no-sail zones off its east and west coasts that indicates it will conduct major military drills, but test firing of short-to-medium-range missiles cannot be ruled out, South Korea's Yonhap news agency, quoting South Korean government officials, said on Wednesday."