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N. Korea scraps all peace pacts with Seoul; US alert

SEOUL/WASHINGTON: An enraged North Korea responded to new UN sanctions with fresh threats of nuclear war yesterday, vowing to scrap peace pacts with South Korea as it upped the ante yet again after its recent atomic test.
It has even threatened a "pre-emptive nuclear attack" against the United States and South Korea — a notion dismissed as bluster by analysts, but not without dangerous, underlying intent.
North Korea "abrogates all agreements on non-aggression reached between the North and the South," the state-run Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) said yesterday.
The CPRK said the pacts would be voided as of Monday, the same day that Pyongyang has vowed to rip up the 1953 armistice agreement that ended Korean War hostilities.
It also announced the immediate severing of a North-South hotline installed in 1971.
The US is fully capable of defending itself against a North Korean ballistic missile attack, the White House said Thursday, after Pyongyang threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States.
The threat from Pyongyang came ahead of a unanimous vote in the UN Security Council approving its toughest sanctions yet on North Korea in response to an atomic test last month.
"I can tell you that the United States is fully capable of defending against any North Korean ballistic missile attack," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
North Korean state television, meanwhile, showed North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un laying preparations for "all-out war" as he visited a frontline military unit involved in the shelling of a South Korean island in 2010.
Footage of the visit showed him being greeted by chanting troops who were held back as they surged towards him. Their families brought children to meet the leader, with one woman encouraging her daughter forward for a hug.
While North Korea is not deemed capable of any nuclear strike on the US mainland, there are growing fears that it will mount some provocation in the form of a missile test or a similar artillery assault.
"To me, this feels like the most dangerous situation since the Korean War," said Paik Hak-Soon, a North Korean analyst at the Sejong Institute in Seoul.
Germany's foreign minister said he wanted his EU counterparts to consider further measures against North Korea beyond UN sanctions, while France urged Pyongyang to show restraint.
China wants "full implementation" of the resolution, said its UN envoy Li Baodong, but stressed that efforts must be made to bring North Korea back to negotiations.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying urged "relevant parties to exercise calm and restraint, and avoid actions that might further escalate tensions," describing the situation as "highly complex and sensitive".
Prior to the Security Council meeting, the North Korean foreign ministry had threatened a "pre-emptive nuclear attack" against the US and all other "aggressors."
The United States responded by saying it was "fully capable" of defending itself and its allies, including South Korea, against any missile strike.
North Korea has now conducted three nuclear tests, although experts doubt it has mastered how to mount a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States.
The top US envoy on North Korea, Glyn Davies, cautioned Pyongyang not to miscalculate, saying the US will take necessary steps to defend itself and its allies, including South Korea.
The US also provides what it calls a "nuclear umbrella" security guarantee to both South Korea and Japan, neighbors of North Korea which do not have atomic weapons, and missile defense capabilities.
"We take all North Korean threats seriously enough to ensure that we have the correct defense posture to deal with any contingencies that might arise," Davies told reporters after testifying to a Senate foreign relations panel.
Thursday's statement out of Pyongyang appeared to be the most specific open threat of a nuclear strike by any country against another, but the Senate panel's chairman, Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey, said the threat was "absurd" and one that if carried out would be suicide.
The new UN sanctions, which were drafted by the US and the North's chief ally and benefactor, China, should make it more difficult for Pyongyang to finance and obtain material for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and for the reclusive nation's ruling elite to acquire luxury goods.