North Korea threatens pre-emptive nuclear strike as U.S., South begin war games

South Korean Army soldiers work on their K-9 South Korean Army soldiers work on their K-9 self-propelled artillery vehicles during an exercise against possible attacks by North Korea near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea. (March 11, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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South Korea and the U.S. began annual war games as North Korea shut down a border hot line after threating to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the two countries.

The "Key Resolve" drills rehearse scenarios of a possible conflict on the Korean peninsula through computer-simulated exercises, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok told reporters Monday in Seoul. While no unusual North Korean troop movements have been spotted, the totalitarian state will probably respond with its own military exercises soon, Kim said.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula are at the highest since at least 2010, when 50 South Koreans were killed in attacks by the North. Kim Jong Un's regime has increased its bellicose rhetoric since the U.S. and China last week reached an agreement to tighten United Nations sanctions following North Korea's nuclear weapons test in February.

North Korea is combat-ready with strategic rockets and "diversified surgical nuclear strike mechanisms," the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper said Monday, adding that the 1953 armistice agreement that ended the Korean War was annulled. South Korea's won Monday slid 0.4 percent to 1,095 against the dollar, having touched 1,102.65, the weakest level since October. The benchmark Kospi Index fell 0.1 percent.

ARMISTICE AGREEMENT

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"Today, on March 11, the armistice agreement is annulled," the newspaper said. "Every citizen is a soldier." North Korea over the weekend threatened to target South Korean defense minister nominee Kim Byung Kwan after he vowed to respond to any attack by toppling Kim's regime.

The South will for the first time take the lead commanding 3,000 U.S. soldiers and 10,000 of its own troops in the drills, Kim said. About 2,500 of the U.S. forces were deployed from the U.S. Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii, according to an e-mailed statement Monday from the Combined Forces Command in Seoul.

"This year is particularly important, because it is the first time the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff have planned and executed this combined exercise," U.S.

General James D. Thurman, head of the combined forces, said in an e-mailed statement. "In doing so, they are taking great strides to assume wartime operational control of forces in Dec. 2015." ROK stands for the Republic of Korea, South Korea's official name.

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CRISIS SITUATION

"We're in a crisis situation with North Korea threatening war every day," South Korean President Park Geun Hye said Monday at her first Cabinet meeting since taking office on Feb. 25. "Close cooperation with the international community is crucial in making North Korea give up its nuclear weapons and make the right choice." Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se took office Monday saying the North Korean threat is the South's biggest challenge, while Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl Jae said in his inaugural speech that inter-Korean dialogue must continue "no matter how grave the situation." South Korea will consider the option of giving humanitarian aid to the North, independent of politics, he said.

The North is not answering South Korean calls made Monday through the hot line at the Panmunjom border village inside the demilitarized zone separating the two countries, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung Suk said. "Severing communication with the two countries does not mean physical cancellation of the phone line, but the North ignoring overtures," Kim said.

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Armed Forces North Korea said units of its armed forces rallied in three provinces March 9, according to a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Armed forces held rallies in two provinces Sunday, according to a separate KCNA statement.

Regional heads of the Workers' Party of Korea said it is the "final conclusion and will" to "settle accounts with the U.S.," according to the statement.

The UN Security Council last week voted unanimously to tighten sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear test.

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