SEOUL, March 8, 2013 -- A leading general in North Korea claims the country has a long-range missile armed with nuclear warheads on standby. Pyongyang repeated its Thursday vow to ditch all nonaggression pacts with South Korea and again threatened a "preemptive nuclear attack" on the United States as well.
The regime also announced early Friday that it plans to cut off phone hotlines between North and South Korea. It was part of a defiant response to tough new sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.
Colonel General Kang Pyo-yong was quoted in North Korea's party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, as saying his soldiers are already positioned to launch a war of reunification -- taking over South Korea -- whenever the order is given by its leaders. "Our intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and other missiles are on standby position mounted with various nuclear warheads that have been developed lighter and smaller," he announced to tens of thousands gathered Thursday at a mass rally in Pyongyang.
North Korea had claimed success in making a lighter and smaller nuclear device after testing it last month, and in December successfully launched its Unha-3 long-range rocket with enough range to reach Alaska and, perhaps, the West Coast of the United States. But weapons experts in the region have said they believe it will still be several years before the North Koreans have a nuclear warhead small enough to be carried by one of their long-range missiles.
China, North Korea's staunchest ally, joined the U.S. and other members of the Security Council to make Thursday's vote at the U.N. unanimous. This is the third round of international sanctions against the North Korean regime.
The Security Council vote came hours after Pyongyang, which has made a series of belligerent statements in recent weeks, said that it would "exercise its right for pre-emptive nuclear strike to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors."
The tough talk from North Korea also comes as the U.S. and South Korea begin joint military maneuvers. The U.S. dismissed the North Korean warnings.
"North Korean threats of provocations will only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia," Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson said.
In recent days, North Korea has vowed to turn Seoul and Washington into a "sea of fire," has imposed no-sail/no-fly zones along its coasts, and warned that it might end the armistice that halted the Korean War in 1953 without a peace treaty.
The targets of the latest round of sanctions included in the latest round of sanctions include top officials at a company that is the country's primary arms dealer and main exporter of ballistic missile-related equipment, and a national organization responsible for research and development of missiles and probably nuclear weapons.