North Korea threats: US to move missiles to Guam
The US has announced it is moving an advanced missile defence system to the Pacific island of Guam as North Korea steps up its warlike rhetoric.
The latest statement from Pyongyang "formally informs" the Pentagon it has "ratified" a possible nuclear strike.
North Korea has threatened to target the US and South Korea in recent weeks.
Its latest statement came amid warnings from US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel that North Korea is a "real and clear danger" to the US and its allies.
The US Department of Defense said on Wednesday it would deploy the ballistic Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (Thaad) in the coming weeks.
The Thaad system includes a truck-mounted launcher, interceptor missiles, and AN/TPY-2 tracking radar, together with an integrated fire control system.
The Pentagon said the missile system would be moved to Guam, a US territory with a significant US military presence, as a "precautionary move to strengthen our regional defence posture against the North Korean regional ballistic missile threat".
"The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and stands ready to defend US territory, our allies, and our national interests," the Pentagon added.
The US had already planned to send a Thaad system to Guam, but not under these circumstances, analysts say.
Riki Ellison, chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Group, told the BBC that the Pentagon's decision to speed up the transfer underlines how seriously Washington is taking Pyongyang's threats, but it should be viewed as a purely defensive move, not an escalation.
He said the Thaad system would only protect Guam and the surrounding area, and would not cover South Korea or Japan.
- 12 Dec: North launches a rocket, claiming to have put a satellite into orbit
- 12 Feb: North conducts underground nuclear test
- 11 Mar: US-South Korea annual military drills begin
- 19 Mar: US flies B-52 bombers over South
- 27 Mar: North cuts military hotline with South
- 28 Mar: US flies B-2 stealth bombers over South
- 30 Mar: North says it is entering a "state of war" with South
- 2 Apr: North says it is restarting Yongbyon reactor
Also on Wednesday, a statement carried by the official North Korean news agency said: "We formally inform the White House and Pentagon that the ever-escalating US hostile policy towards the DPRK [North Korea] and its reckless nuclear threat will be smashed by the strong will of all the united service personnel and people and cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means of the DPRK and that the merciless operation of its revolutionary armed forces in this regard has been finally examined and ratified."
It warned war could break out on the Korean peninsula as early as "today or tomorrow".
The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Seoul says few observers believe North Korea has rockets or miniaturised weapons that could hit the US mainland.
Pyongyang could be seeking to pressure Washington to open fresh talks, hoping for a formal peace treaty, he adds.
In recent weeks, North Korea has mentioned military bases in the US territory of Guam and the US state of Hawaii as possible targets.
"As they have ratcheted up her bellicose, dangerous rhetoric, and some of the actions they've taken over the last few weeks present a real and clear danger," said Mr Hagel, in his first major speech on Wednesday since taking up his post.
He added that Pyongyang had also threatened the interests of South Korea and Japan.
The North has apparently been angered by UN sanctions imposed after a recent nuclear test. Pyongyang has escalated its rhetoric amid the current round of US-South Korea military drills.
The US has recently made a series of high-profile flights of stealth fighters and nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over South Korea.
Officials have also confirmed that the USS John McCain, a destroyer capable of intercepting missiles, has been positioned off the Korean peninsula.
A second destroyer, the USS Decatur, has been sent to the region.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry called recent North Korean actions "dangerous" and "reckless".
China, the North's only powerful ally, said it had despatched officials on Tuesday to hold talks with ambassadors from North Korea, South Korea and the US.
The Pentagon's announcement comes hours after North Korea closed a border crossing that allowed South Koreans to work at a jointly run industrial park - the first time such action has been taken since 2009.
The border into the Kaesong industrial zone is the last functioning crossing between the two Koreas, and the complex is the last significant symbol of co-operation.