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US pushes back against North Korean war rhetoric

North Korea warned Seoul on Saturday that the Korean Peninsula had entered ‘a state of war.’ US officials note that North Korea has a long history of bellicose rhetoric and threats, but they’re taking additional defensive measures just in case.

In the wake of North Korea’s latest war-like pronouncements, the United States is assuming a sober, tough-minded stance it hopes will avert further threats and provocative acts by Pyongyang.

North Korea warned Seoul on Saturday that the Korean Peninsula had entered “a state of war” and it threatened to shut down a border factory complex involving both countries.

“We’ve seen reports of a new and unconstructive statement from North Korea,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden in a statement Saturday. “We take these threats seriously and remain in close contact with our South Korean allies. But we would also note that North Korea has a long history of bellicose rhetoric and threats and today’s announcement follows that familiar pattern.”

“As [Defense] Secretary [Chuck] Hagel said on Thursday, we remain fully prepared and capable of defending and protecting the United States and our allies,” she added. “We continue to take additional measures against the North Korean threat, including our plan to increase the U.S. ground-based interceptors and early warning and tracking radar, and the signing of the [South Korea-US] counter-provocation plan.”

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Earlier, deputy White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Air Force One that Pyongyang was purely to blame for escalating tensions, Agence France-Presse reported.

“We are coordinating pretty closely with not just our allies, but also with Russia and China which also have a significant stake in resolving this situation peacefully,” Mr. Earnest said.

Rhetorical saber-rattling aside, analysts say a full-scale conflict is extremely unlikely, noting that the Korean Peninsula has remained in a technical state of war for 60 years, the Associated Pressreported Saturday. But the North’s continued threats toward Seoul and Washington, including a vow to launch a nuclear strike, have raised worries that a misjudgment between the sides could lead to a clash.

North Korea’s threats are seen as efforts to provoke the new government in Seoul, led by President Park Geun-hye, to change its policies toward Pyongyang, and to win diplomatic talks with Washington that could get it more aid, the AP reports from Seoul. North Korea’s moves are also seen as ways to build domestic unity as young leader Kim Jong Un strengthens his military credentials.

North Korea said in a statement Saturday that it would deal with South Korea according to “wartime regulations” and would retaliate against any provocations by the United States and South Korea without notice.

“Now that the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK have entered into an actual military action, the inter-Korean relations have naturally entered the state of war,” said the statement, which was carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, referring to the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Provocations “will not be limited to a local war, but develop into an all-out war, a nuclear war,” the statement said.

Pyongyang has threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire” and has warned of firing rockets atU.S. military bases in GuamHawaii and Japan,” notes a Voice of America report. Analysts say the North is not yet capable of mounting an operational nuclear warhead on a missile. But many of its neighbors are worried they may be easier targets for Pyongyang’s conventional weapons.

Pyongyang’s latest threats come in the context of a joint US-South Korea military exercise on the Korean Peninsula, including overflights and the dropping of dummy bombs on an uninhabited South Korean island by US B-2 stealth bombers on long-range flights from Missouri.