North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has warned he is ready to use his nuclear weapons in potential military conflicts with the United States and South Korea.
North Korea will likely intensify its threats against the United States and South Korea as the allies prepare to expand summertime exercises the North views as an invasion rehearsal, some observers say.
Speaking to war veterans on Wednesday’s 69th anniversary of the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, Korean Central News Agency quoted Mr Kim saying: "Our armed forces are completely prepared to respond to any crisis, and our country’s nuclear war deterrent is also ready to mobilise its absolute power dutifully, exactly and swiftly in accordance with its mission."
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In April, Mr Kim said North Korea could pre-emptively use nuclear weapons if threatened, saying they would "never be confined to the single mission of war deterrent".
The North's military has also test-launched nuclear-capable missiles that place both the US mainland and South Korea within striking distance.
In his speech, Mr Kim accused the US of "demonising" North Korea to justify its hostile policies and said US-South Korea military drills show "double standards" and "gangster-like" aspects because the North’s routine military activity is branded as hostile.
Mr Kim also called new South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol "a confrontation maniac" who has gone further than past South Korean leaders and said Mr Yoon’s conservative government was led by "gangsters".
Watch: Exploring North Korea's nuclear weapon capability.
Since taking office in May, the Yoon government has moved to strengthen Seoul’s military alliance with the United States and bolster its capacity to neutralise North Korean nuclear threats including a pre-emptive strike capability.
"Talking about military action against our nation, which possess absolute weapons that they fear the most, is preposterous and is very dangerous suicidal action," Mr Kim said.
"Such a dangerous attempt will be immediately punished by our powerful strength and the Yoon Suk Yeol government and his military will be annihilated."
The North Korean leader is seeking greater public support as his country’s economy has been battered by pandemic-related border shutdowns, US-led sanctions and his own mismanagement.
North Korea also admitted to its first COVID-19 outbreak in May, though the scale of illness and death is widely disputed in a country that lacks the modern medical capacity to handle it.