New North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has personally joined Pyongyang's rhetorical war against joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises that kick off Monday.
According to the North's official KCNA news agency, Kim on Sunday visited four units under the 4th Army Corps, which shelled Yeonpyeong Island in October 2010, and was quoted as parroting earlier calls in the official media for "a powerful retaliatory strike" at South Korea, "should the enemy intrude even 0.001 mm" into its waters.
On Saturday, the North's powerful National Defense Commission also denounced the exercises. "Nuclear weapons are not an exclusive property of the U.S.," it said. "We have more powerful means of war than the nuclear weapons of the U.S. and state-of-the-art strike equipment that nobody else has."
A South Korean military source said North Korean military units exchanged radio messages during a South Korean firing drill on the northwesternmost islands on Feb. 20 that said, "We're ready to risk a full-scale war."
But experts say the chances of an actual attack from the North are slim, since these threats are customary ahead of South Korea-U.S. drlls.
The response this time round is more vociferous, however, probably because Kim Jong-un has yet to consolidate his hold on power after his father Kim Jong-il's death in December.
The first part of the joint exercises, dubbed "Key Resolve," involves 2,100 U.S. troops and 200,000 South Korean forces from Monday to March 9. The second part, called "Foal Eagle" runs from Thursday until the end of April and involves some 11,000 U.S. troops carrying out aerial, sea and special operations, as well as ground maneuver operations with South Korean forces.