South Korean and USA troops kicked off their 10-day joint military drills on Monday, involving some 17,500 US servicemen and about 50,000 South Korean forces.
The US and South Korea would begin a 10-day-long annual military exercise next week, the Pentagon said today amid the continued provocative behaviour from North Korea. Moon said Monday the drills are defensive in nature.
North Korea's military threatened Tuesday that it is ready to stage ruthless retaliation against South Korea and the United States over their ongoing joint military exercises. Kim said the United States needs to "make a proper option first and show it through action" to reduce tensions. So far the USA and South Korea have rejected this idea.
The head of the US military's Pacific Command said on Tuesday it was more important to use diplomacy to counter North Korea's missile threat rather than consider what actions by the reclusive North might trigger a preemptive strike. "North Korea should not use this as a pretext for provocation".
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that both Seoul and Washington had considered calling off an initial plan that would see two aircraft carriers move into the peninsula to take part in the drill in order to appease Kim Jong-un, the subject of "decapitation drills" in previous Ulchi exercises.
"We don't think the joint exercise will be conducive to easing the current tensions".
It justifies its weapons programs by pointing to perceived US hostility and regularly threatens to destroy the United States.
The Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea on August 5 that could slash its US$3 billion annual export revenue by a third.
"The joint exercise is the most explicit expression of hostility against us, and no one can guarantee that the exercise won't evolve into actual fighting", said an editorial carried by the North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper. During last year's Ulchi drills, North Korea test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile that flew about 310 miles in the longest flight by that type of weapon.
That sparked a grim warning by President Donald Trump that Washington could rain "fire and fury" on the North. The North responded by threatening to fire missiles towards the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam.
Around 17,500 United States troops will participate in this year's drills - a cutback from last year - according to numbers provided by Seoul's defence ministry.
Other South Korean allies are also joining this year, with troops from Australia, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, the Netherlands, and New Zealand taking part.