SEOUL -- North Korea vowed yesterday to respond with an ``annihilating" nuclear strike if its atomic facilities are attacked preemptively by the United States.
The warning was a stepping up of the North's customary anti-US vitriol, in which it often accuses Washington of plotting an attack. The reclusive North has recently come under heightened scrutiny after reports by the United States and Japan that it has taken steps to prepare for a test of a long-range missile.
White House spokesman Tony Snow refused to respond to what he called ``a hypothetical situation."
``It is a statement about what may happen if something that hasn't happened happened, if you follow my drift," he said.
The North's Korean Central News Agency, citing an unidentified ``analyst" with the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper, accused the United States of harassing Pyongyang with war exercises, a massive arms buildup, and increased aerial espionage by basing new spy planes in South Korea.
``This is a grave military provocation and blackmail to the DPRK, being an indication that the US is rapidly pushing ahead in various fields with the extremely dangerous war moves," the dispatch said.
``The army and people of the DPRK are now in full preparedness to answer a pre-emptive attack with a relentless annihilating strike and a nuclear war with a mighty nuclear deterrent," the report said.
DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The report concluded by urging the United States to ``get out of South Korea promptly." About 29,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against the communist North.
On Friday, Pyongyang accused the United States of driving the situation on the Korean Peninsula ``to the brink of war," and said it is fully prepared to counter any US aggression.
Washington and Japan have said in recent weeks that spy satellite images show North Korea has taken steps to prepare a long-range Taepodong-2 missile for a test-launch. Estimates for the range of the missile vary widely, but at least one US study said it could be able to reach parts of the United States with a light payload.
Speculation that Pyongyang could fire the missile has waned in recent days, however, since the country's top ally and a major source of its energy supplies, China, publicly suggested North Korea should not to go ahead with the test.
A news report yesterday said China has offered a new proposal over the stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program.
Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan told Ichiro Ozawa, the head of Japan's main opposition party, that China had relayed the proposal to Japan, the two Koreas, the United States, and Russia, the Kyodo News agency reported, citing party officials. The report did not elaborate on the proposal.
While public information on North Korea's military capabilities is murky, experts doubt the regime has managed to develop a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on its long-range missiles.