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Seoul issues warning as Pyongyang ramps up nuke rhetoric

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An image issued by North Korean state media Korean Central News Agency on Sept. 28, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as he attends a meeting of the country's parliament, where it unanimously enshrined the nuclear program in the constitution, during a two-day session in Pyongyang, North Korea. [YONHAP]
An image issued by North Korean state media Korean Central News Agency on Sept. 28, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as he attends a meeting of the country’s parliament, where it unanimously enshrined the nuclear program in the constitution, during a two-day session in Pyongyang, North Korea. [YONHAP]

The war of words continued between Seoul and Pyongyang on Wednesday over the North Korean regime’s threats to use its nuclear weapons.

“If North Korea attempts to use nuclear weapons, it will lead to the end of the regime,” said South Korea’s Defense Ministry in a statement on Wednesday, condemning the North’s attempt last week to lay the legal groundwork for its nuclear arsenal through a constitutional amendment.

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“Our military has a joint Republic of Korea-U. S. readiness posture that can overwhelmingly respond to any attack from North Korea,” it said.

North Korea’s defense ministry kept up its rhetoric on Wednesday, criticizing the United States in an attempt to justify its nuclear weapons development.

“The U.S. Defense Department recently made public ‘2023 strategy for countering WMD [weapons of mass destruction],’ in which it termed China and Russia ‘pacing challenge’ and ‘acute threat’ and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) ‘persistent threat,’” a North Korean defense ministry’s spokesman was quoted as saying in an English-language statement printed by the Korea Central News Agency on Wednesday.

“Such act of the U.S. military is another grave military and political provocation against independent sovereign states,” he said.

In its report released last month, the U.S. Department of Defense vowed to continue to address “acute and persistent near-term nuclear, chemical and biological threats” posed by both Russia and North Korea.

“The DPRK’s long-standing chemical and biological weapons capabilities remain a threat, as the DPRK may use such weapons during a conflict,” it said, citing a law Pyongyang passed last year to establish conditions for the use of its nuclear weapons, including an impending nuclear attack or any threats to the regime’s existence.

The Defense Ministry in Seoul called on Pyongyang to cease its hostile behavior, warning that it was further deepening the regime’s isolation and “the suffering of the North Korean people.”

Following the North’s constitutional amendment last week, the UN Security Council held a closed-door meeting last Friday to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program.

The council had placed nearly a dozen sanctions on the North for its military provocations since 2006 when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, all passed unanimously by the 15-member body.

However, the council has been unable to pass any sanctions on the North since May of last year, when permanent members China and Russia vetoed a U.S.-drafted sanctions resolution.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]