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March 03, 2015

North Korea has power to deter U.S. 'nuclear threat:' foreign minister

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong warned on Tuesday that his country had the power to deter an "ever-increasing nuclear threat" by the United States with a pre-emptive strike if necessary.

In a rare speech to the U.N.-backed Conference on Disarmament, Ri said joint military exercises being staged by South Korea and the United States were "unprecedentedly provocative in nature and have an especially high possibility of sparking off a war".

"The DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) cannot but bolster its nuclear deterrent capability to cope with the ever-increasing nuclear threat of the U.S. Now the DPRK has the power of deterring the U.S. and conducting a pre-emptive strike as well, if necessary," Ri told the Geneva forum.

His remarks were consistent with Pyongyang's stance on the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which the North denounces as a preparation for war, and with the verbal threats that the isolationist government frequently makes.

North Korea fired two short-range missiles off its eastern coast on Monday, South Korean officials said, a defiant response to the military exercises that drew a swift protest from Japan.

The missiles landed in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and southern Japan early on Monday morning after travelling for about 490 km (305 miles), according to South Korea's Defence Ministry.

Ri, speaking in Korean, did not refer to the firing, but said the joint military drills were "unprecedentedly provocative in nature and have an especially high possibility of sparking off a war". He said the Korean Peninsula was a "touch-and-go nuclear powder-keg".

Striking a conciliatory note, he noted that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had underscored in his New Year's address that the North and South should achieve great national unity.

"The DPRK will not spare its sincere efforts to bring about great change in inter-Korean relations this year," Ri said.

There was no immediate reaction from the U.S. or South Korean delegations to the 65-member state U.N. forum.