North Korea has warned the United States it will be "pouring gasoline on fire" if they carry out drills with its long term foe South Korea. It compared the exercises to "pouring fuel on fire", Sky News reported.
The war games set to begin Monday may hold more potential to provoke than ever, given President Donald Trump's "fire and fury" threats and Pyongyang's as-yet-unpursued plan to launch missiles close to Guam.
The joint U.S. -South Korean drills will continue to August 31 and involve computer simulations created to prepare for war with a nuclear-capable North Korea.
In an editorial published Sunday, official North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun criticized the joint military exercise as an "expression of enmity", adding that no one can guarantee "that the exercise won't lead to hostilities". In 2015, North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire at the same time as the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills after the South began blasting propaganda on loudspeakers across the border.
Only weeks ago it said it was considering firing a salvo of missiles towards the US Pacific territory of Guam.
Pyongyang issued a statement in its official KCNA news agency Thursday with a typically belligerent warning to the South not to cosy up any further to the US.
"We can not stand the fact the enemy tries to form schemes to assassinate our leadership", North Korea's state news agency, KCNA, said in July. North Korea's rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the US mainland has fuelled a surge in regional tension and United Nations -led sanctions appear to have failed to bite deeply enough to change Pyongyang's mind.
The computer-assisted simulation exercise would mobilize about 17,500 US troops, including 3,000 reinforcements from outside South Korea.
That focus on the North Korean leadership is what particularly infuriates Pyongyang, experts say.
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During this year's war games in March, North Korea launched four extended-range Scud missiles into the sea in what it described as a rehearsal for striking USA military bases in Japan.
After Kim Jong-un ramped up the pace of weapons development previous year with numerous missile launches as well as two nuclear tests in January and September 2016, some observers had expected a sixth nuclear test as early as this January.
US and South Korean troops have begun annual military drills amid heated warnings by the North that the exercises will worsen tensions in the region.
North Korea views such exercises as preparations for invasion and has fired missiles and taken other actions to coincide with the military drills in the past.
He was responding to remarks by a top Trump aide ruling out military action over North Korea's nuclear programme. Talking about stopping joint military exercises and pulling US troops out is highly risky.
"This right now is an exercise to make certain that we're ready to defend South Korea and our allies over there", Mattis told reporters en route to Jordan, according to a transcript released by his office. He said the military exercises are "not now on the table as part of the negotiations in any way".
Moon, who took office in May, announced on his 100th day in office that US and South Korean policies are aligned on North Korea.
The United States has been the South's security guarantor since the end of the Korean War in 1953, which left the peninsula divided and technically still in a state of conflict with no peace treaty signed.