The U.S. military command in South Korea explained the move saying in a statement that the U.S. urged North Korea to restrain itself.
“(North Korea) will achieve nothing by threats or provocations, which will only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia,” the statement reads.
Sabre-rattling drew a plea for peace from recently Pope Francis, who in his Easter Sunday address urged countries to settle down the tensions in a diplomatic way.
“Peace in Asia, above all on the Korean peninsula: may disagreements be overcome and a renewed spirit of reconciliation grow,” he said, speaking in Italian.
The situation on the Korean peninsula worsened after the North’s young new leader, Kim Jong-un, ordered a nuclear weapons test in February, breaching U.N. sanctions and ignoring warnings from North Korea’s closest ally, China, not to do so.
That test, North Korea’s third in six year, drew U.N. and bilateral sanctions aimed to pressure the impoverished North to stop its nuclear weapons program, The Huffington Post reports. Pyongyang responded to the new steps by ratcheting up warnings and threats of war.
The news comes a few days after the North announced that it entered “state of war” against South Korea, soon after Kim Jong-un said he would “settle accounts” with Washington for threatening him with bomb attack.
“As of now, inter-Korea relations enter a state of war and all matters between the two Koreas will be handled according to wartime protocol,” the North said in a joint statement attributed to all government bodies and institutions.
“From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly,” a statement carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency said at the time.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok assured that the country’s military are mindful of the possibility that increasing drills near the border could lead to an actual provocation.
“The series of North Korean threats – announcing all-out war, scrapping the cease-fire agreement and the non-aggression agreement between the South and the North, cutting the military hotline, entering into combat posture No. 1 and entering a `state of war’ – are unacceptable and harm the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula,” Kim said.
“We are maintaining full military readiness in order to protect our people’s lives and security,” he told reporters Saturday.
Russia warned on Friday that North and South Korea alongside with the U.S. were engaged in a dangerous game of brinkmanship that could spiral out of control.
“We are opposed to any steps from any side that increase tensions,” said Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister.
The two Koreas have been in a state of war since a truce ended their 1950-53 conflict. Despite its threats, there was no indications that Pyongyang will risk a near-certain defeat by re-starting full-scale war.