SEOUL - North Korea threatened South Korea with destruction yesterday after Seoul's top military officer said his country would consider attacking the communist nation if it tried to carry out a nuclear attack.
The statement from North Korea's official news agency marked the third straight day of bellicose rhetoric from the North, which is angry over the harsher line the South's conservative new president has taken against the country since assuming office last month.
"Our military will not sit idle until warmongers launch a preemptive strike," said an unidentified North Korean military commentator. "Everything will be in ashes, not just a sea of fire, if our advanced preemptive strike" begins.
On Friday, the North test-fired a barrage of missiles into the sea and warned it would "mercilessly wipe out" any South Korean warships that violate its waters near their disputed sea border.
Such rhetoric by North Korea at times of increased tensions is not rare, and it comes just two days before a scheduled visit to South Korea by the chief US negotiator in North Korean nuclear disarmament talks.
South Korea's Defense Ministry reacted calmly.
A senior military officer at the ministry said officials were working to ensure the public would not worry about the North's recent actions and statements. He declined to elaborate and asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media.
Yesterday's statement from North Korea also warned that the North would suspend all scheduled inter-Korean dialogue unless Seoul retracts and apologizes for the remark by its new top military leader.
Kim Tae-young, chairman of the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a parliamentary hearing Wednesday that the military would strike a suspected North Korean nuclear weapons site if Pyongyang attempts to attack the South with atomic bombs. His office later said he was talking about a general military principle dealing with outside threats, not about launching an unprovoked preemptive attack on the North.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said that it would decide whether to send a response to the North over its demand for a retraction in a few days.
The North Korean military commentator reaffirmed that Pyongyang would ban South Korean officials, including military officers, from crossing the border.
The statement did not say when the ban would take effect or how long it would last.
President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea has pledged to review rapprochement projects pushed by his two liberal predecessors, saying progress in efforts to halt the North's nuclear program was a prerequisite for further large investment and aid projects.
International negotiations aimed at the North's denuclearization have been stalled for months because of differences over whether Pyongyang has met a requirement to fully declare its atomic programs. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Washington's point man on North Korea, is due in Seoul tomorrow for talks with South Korean officials.