North Korea has said it is ready to use its "nuclear deterrent" in response to joint U.S.-Korean military exercises if it deems such a move appropriate.
North Korea's National Defense Commission -- headed by leader Kim Jong Il -- said it would begin a "retaliatory sacred war" against the United States and South Korea at "any time necessary."
In a statement broadcast on North Korean state television, the commission criticized the planned military drills as "reckless" and "outright provocations."
"The army and people of the DPRK will start a retaliatory sacred war of their own style based on nuclear deterrent at any time necessary in order to counter the U.S. imperialists and the South Korean puppet forces deliberately pushing the situation to the brink of war," a television newsreader quoted the commission as saying.
The large-scale naval and aerial exercises are scheduled to begin on July 25 in the East Sea.
Tensions have been high on the peninsula since the March sinking of South Korean warship that Seoul and Washington blame on Pyongyang. North Korea vehemently denies being behind the sinking, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.
Pyongyang's latest threat comes just one day after it threatened a "physical response" to the military drills.
North Korean delegation spokesman Ri Tong-il made the comment at regional security talks in Vietnam.
"It is another expression of the hostile policy against [North Korea]. And [North Korea's] position is clear," Ri said. "There will be physical response against the south."
U.S. Calls For 'Constructive Action'
At the gathering in Hanoi, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton slammed North Korea for its "destabilizing effect" on Northeast Asia and "the proliferation of both conventional arms and nuclear technical know-how."
North Korea routinely threatens war when the United States and South Korea hold joint military drills.
Washington brushed off the latest threat of "sacred war," with State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley calling for "fewer provocative words and more constructive action" from Pyongyang.
On July 23, Crowley again insisted the upcoming military exercises were meant to deter North Korean aggression, not rehearse for an attack against the North.
"Our planned exercises, as we have indicated, are defensive in nature. They reflect our important alliance with South Korea," Crowley said. "Their intent is to demonstrate that we are committed to the security of South Korea and the region."
Following talks in Seoul on July 21, Clinton announced fresh sanctions on North Korea aimed at freezing its assets earned from illicit activities including arms trade and cut off the flow of cash to its leaders.
On July 23, the European Union said it, too, would consider new sanctions on the North.
The U.S.-South Korean military drills are set to run through July 21 with about 8,000 U.S. and South Korean troops. The drills will involve some 20 ships and submarines, and about 200 aircraft.
compiled from agency reports