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N. Korea Makes Nuclear Threat

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his military to be ready to launch nuclear strikes at any time, state media reported Friday, an escalation in rhetoric targeting Seoul and Washington that may not reflect the country’s actual nuclear capacity.

Kim issued the nuclear threat while guiding the test-firing of a new large-caliber multiple launch rocket system, in a likely reference to six short-range projectiles that Seoul says North Korea fired on Thursday.

The threat comes in response to the authoritarian government’s belief that South Korea and the United States are attempting to overthrow its leadership.

In North Korea’s first official response to the U.N.’s recent adoption of harsh sanctions over its recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch, the North also warned Friday it will bolster its nuclear arsenal and make unspecified “strong and merciless physical” measures. A government statement called the U.N. sanctions the “most heinous international criminal act” aimed at isolating and stifling the country.

“The only way for defending the sovereignty of our nation and its right to existence under the present extreme situation is to bolster up nuclear force both in quality and quantity,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said, paraphrasing Kim. It said Kim stressed “the need to get the nuclear warheads deployed for national defense always on standby so as to be fired any moment.”

North Korea has threatened nuclear war in the past, but it is unclear just how advanced the country’s nuclear program really is. It is thought to have a handful of crude atomic bombs, but there is considerable outside debate about the state of its arsenal.