North Korean leader Kim Jong-un says his country is fully ready to use nuclear weapons in any military confrontation with the United States and South Korea, amid escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Kim made the remark during a speech at an event to mark the 69th anniversary of the deal that ended the Korean War, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Thursday.
"Our armed forces are completely prepared to respond to any crisis, and our country's nuclear war deterrent is also ready to mobilize its absolute power dutifully, exactly, and swiftly in accordance with its mission," he said.
Kim further said Washington was continuing "dangerous, illegal hostile acts" with South Korea against the North some 70 years after the war, adding that it sought to justify its behavior by "demonizing" the country.
He also accused the United States of double standards over military activities, saying, "The duplex act of the United States, which is misleading all the routine actions of our armed forces as 'provocation' and 'threat' while holding large-scale joint military exercises that seriously threaten our security, is literally a robbery."
"That is driving bilateral relations to the point where it is difficult to turn back, into a state of conflict," Kim added.
Elsewhere in his speech, the North Korean leader warned South Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol that any attempts to preemptively incapacitate the North would be met with a stern response and "annihilation."
"Talking about military action against our nation, which possess absolute weapons that they fear the most, is preposterous and is very dangerous suicidal action," Kim said. "Such a dangerous attempt will be immediately punished by our powerful strength and the Yoon Suk Yeol government and his military will be annihilated."
South Korea's newly elected president has urged the country's military leaders to "promptly and sternly" take action against any North Korean provocations.
The latest development comes as Seoul and Washington have voiced concerns that Pyongyang has made preparations to conduct its first nuclear test in five years.
North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test in September 2017. However, during inconclusive negotiations later with the US, it dismantled a nuclear facility and has not conducted any other nuclear tests since then.
The United States has warned that it would push for additional sanctions if Pyongyang conducted a seventh nuclear test.
But North Korea has tested a number of ballistic missiles this year, including massive intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), new hypersonic missiles, and a short-range missile potentially designed for tactical nuclear weapons.
It maintains that its weapons tests are a defensive measure against threats posed by the massive presence of US forces near its territorial waters and the regular holding of joint US-led war games with Japan with South Korea.