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North Korea Accuses U.S. of Raising Tensions

SEOUL—North Korea said the U.S. had pushed tensions on the Korean Peninsula to an “extreme red line,” responding to recent promises by U.S. Defense Secretary

Lloyd Austin

to expand joint military drills with South Korea and enhance nuclear deterrence.

North Korea said it isn’t interested in any contact or dialogue with the U.S. as long as Washington pursues what Pyongyang describes as a hostile and confrontational policy. The U.S. actions threatened to turn the Korean Peninsula into a “huge war arsenal,” Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday, adding that it would respond to military moves by the U.S. with “overwhelming nuclear force.”

The remarks followed a visit by Mr. Austin to Seoul, where he met with his South Korean counterpart and President Yoon Suk Yeol. The U.S. defense chief sought to reassure Seoul of Washington’s commitment to extended deterrence against North Korea. Mr. Austin promised to expand the scale and length of joint military exercises and deploy additional jet fighters to the country. Washington and Seoul military officials plan to meet in February to discuss and run through scenarios, including a potential nuclear attack from North Korea.

The White House rejected North Korea’s claim that military exercises with South Korea bear hostile intent, calling them routine exercises. The U.S. is willing to meet with North Korean representatives at a time and place convenient for them, a White House National Security Council spokesperson said.

South Korea’s unification ministry called on North Korea to refrain from provocative acts and return to dialogue.

On Thursday, the U.S. and South Korea staged combined air drills involving strategic bombers and stealth fighters, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry. North Korea has frequently cited Washington’s military drills with its allies as indications of a hostile policy toward Pyongyang that justify its missile tests as countermeasures.

Last year North Korea conducted a record number of missile tests and vowed to exponentially increase its nuclear arsenal and develop a new intercontinental ballistic-missile system this year. Washington and Seoul officials have said Pyongyang stands ready to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017.

The U.S. and South Korea have expanded military drills in response to North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat. Some of the missiles fired last year triggered air-raid alerts and shelter warnings in Japan and South Korea. Following a North Korean drone incursion in December, Mr. Yoon ordered officials to retaliate against Pyongyang.

Last year, the Biden administration repeatedly offered to hold talks with North Korea. Pyongyang has rejected the offers. The Yoon administration has offered Covid-19 assistance and humanitarian aid if North Korea takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.

On Wednesday, South Korea’s Foreign Minister Park Jin met with United Nations Secretary-General

António Guterres

in New York, calling for the U.N.’s attention to North Korea’s provocations and discussing concerns about a possible nuclear test. Mr. Guterres said any resumption of nuclear testing by Pyongyang would deal a devastating blow to international security, and vowed to support efforts to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Write to Dasl Yoon at dasl.yoon@wsj.com

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