North Korea says it is prepared to counter provocative military moves by the United States with the "most overwhelming nuclear force."
In a statement on Thursday, the North Korean Foreign Ministry also warned that the expansion of the US combined military exercises with arch-foe South Korea was pushing tensions to an "extreme red line."
"The military and political situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region has reached an extreme red-line due to the reckless military confrontational maneuvers and hostile acts of the US and its vassal forces," the statement read, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The strongly-worded statement came in response to comments by the by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said on Tuesday in the South Korean capital of Seoul that Washington would boost its deployment of advanced military assets to the Korean Peninsula. Austin said that such an increase in military presence would include warplanes and aircraft carriers, as the US strengthens joint training and operational planning with the South.
The North Korean foreign ministry accused Washington of "working hard to 'demonize' the DPRK, spreading again all sorts of rumors," using an abbreviation for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The ministry also blamed the US and its allies for "intensifying the full-scale offensive for putting pressure on the DPRK in all aspects including 'human rights,' sanctions and military affairs."
North Korea "will strongly control the present and future potential challenges with the most overwhelming nuclear force," Pyongyang warned, stressing that it "will take the toughest reaction to any military attempt of the US on the principle of 'nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out confrontation.'"
The North also warned that military drills by the US and its regional allies would turn the Korean Peninsula into a "huge war arsenal and a more critical war zone."
However, a statement by the White House rejected that joint military drills by the US and its allies in and around the Korean Peninsula would constitute a provocation.
"We reject the notion that our joint exercises with partners in the region serve as any sort of provocation. These are routine exercises fully consistent with past practice," the White House statement said.
Inter-Korean relations have drastically deteriorated since South Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May last year and openly invited the US to take part in joint military drills, including joint nuclear exercises, with South Korea.
On Wednesday, the US and the South carried out a joint aerial drill with American B-1B heavy bombers and F-22 stealth fighters, as well as F-35 jets from both sides.
North Korea, which has been under harsh sanctions by the United States and the United Nations Security Council for years over its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs, launched an unprecedented number of missiles in 2022, including its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile ever.
Over 28,500 American troops are based in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which concluded in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, meaning that the two neighbors are still technically at war.
Seoul, which has been rattled by increased test launches by the North, is now trying to boost its military alliance with the US and deepen cooperation with Japan.