SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea warned Wednesday of a "thousand-fold" military retaliation against the U.S. and its allies if provoked, the latest threat in its drumbeat of rhetoric in defense of its rogue nuclear program.
The warning, carried by the North's state media, came hours after President Barack Obama declared North Korea a "grave threat" to the world and pledged that new U.N. sanctions on the communist regime will be aggressively enforced.
Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak met in Washington on Tuesday for a landmark summit in which they agreed to build a regional and global "strategic alliance" to persuade North Korea to dismantle all its nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang claims its nuclear bombs are a deterrence against the United States and accuses Washington of plotting with Seoul to topple its secretive regime, led by unpredictable dictator Kim Jong Il, who is reportedly preparing to hand over power to his 26-year-old youngest son.
"If the U.S. and its followers infringe upon our republic's sovereignty even a bit, our military and people will launch a one hundred- or one thousand-fold retaliation with merciless military strike," the government-run Minju Joson newspaper said in a commentary.
The commentary, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, also called Obama "a hypocrite" for advocating a nuclear-free world while making "frantic efforts" to develop new nuclear weapons at home.
"The nuclear program is not the monopoly of only the U.S.," it said.
Rodong Sinmun, another state-owned newspaper, accused the U.S. of deploying new weapons in South Korea and other neighboring countries to invade the North.
"The acute situation on the Korean peninsula is calling on our military and people to further bolster our war deterrence with the high-profile national awakening," said the Rodong Sinmun commentary, also carried by KCNA.
The two papers didn't mention the Obama-Lee summit.
Attention has been focused on North Korea since it conducted a nuclear test — its second — on May 25 in defiance of the United Nations. The U.N. Security Council responded by toughening an arms embargo against North Korea and authorizing ship searches in an attempt to thwart its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The U.N., however, did not authorize military force to enforce the measures.
North Korea, which conducted its first test in 2006, is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least half a dozen atomic bombs. It revealed last week that it is also producing enriched uranium. The two materials are key ingredients for making atomic bombs.
The nuclear test — amid suspicion that is preparing for a third one — has effectively brought to a halt the so-called six-party talks aimed at giving North Korea fuel and other benefits in exchange for dismantling its nuclear program. The talks involved the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia.
Obama said the world must break a pattern in which North Korea puts the world on edge with its threats, only to secure more concessions by promising to reduce tensions.
He said the U.S. is more than willing to negotiate with North Korea to bring peace on the Korean peninsula.
"But belligerent, provocative behavior that threatens neighbors will be met with significant and serious enforcement of sanctions that are in place," he said.
Lee said his country's alliance with the U.S. will "prevent anything from happening."
Pentagon officials warned Tuesday that North Korea's missiles could strike the U.S. within three years if its weapons growth goes unchecked.
Some analysts believe that the North's rhetoric is aimed at showing its people that their government can defy the powerful U.S., and giving credit to Kim's reported heir apparent, Kim Jong Un. The analysts say this would make Jong Un's ascent to the top acceptable to North Koreans.