SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened to launch a powerful retaliatory strike against South Korea if provoked, state media said Sunday, a day before the start of annual South Korean-U.S. military drills that Pyongyang calls an invasion rehearsal.
The report of the warning came a day after a senior U.S. envoy said ties between the rival Koreas must improve before Pyongyang and Washington can achieve real progress in their relationship.
Kim, the supreme commander of the North's 1.2 million-member military, issued the instruction to troops during a visit to front-line military units, including one that shelled a South Korean island in 2010, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
"He ordered them to make a powerful retaliatory strike at the enemy, should the enemy intrude even 0.001 millimeter into the waters of the country where its sovereignty is exercised," a KCNA dispatch said. It did not say when Kim visited the units.
North Korea has regularly issued such rhetoric against joint South Korean-U.S. military training.
South Korean and U.S. officials have said that the 12-day, largely computer-simulated war games set to start Monday are defensive in nature.
KCNA said that fears of a war on the Korean peninsula have heightened due to the drills, which it called a "new war of aggression." North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission threatened Saturday to wage a "sacred war" over the drills.
Kim also visited the army battalion responsible for the 2010 shelling of South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island. KCNA said the unit is "well known to the world as it turned Yeonpyeong Island ... in flames," adding that Kim "highly appreciated the feats" by battalion members.
The artillery bombardment, which killed four South Koreans, raised fears of a bigger conflict on the Korean peninsula. North Korea says the attack was triggered by South Korea's firing of artillery into its territorial waters, while South Korea says the firing was only part of routine drills.
On Saturday, U.S. envoy Glyn Davies told reporters in Seoul that he made it clear to North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan in a meeting in Beijing last week that North Korea should improve its relations with South Korea.
The talks aimed at resuming stalled international nuclear disarmament talks were the first since Kim's father and longtime leader Kim Jong Il died in December. Kim Jong Un has quickly taken over power by assuming a slew of prominent titles previously held by his father.
North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim separately met China's chief nuclear envoy, Wu Dawei, and Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun on Saturday to discuss the six-nation nuclear talks, according to Beijing's Foreign Ministry. More than three years have passed since the last six-nation talks, which involve the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia.