North Korea demanded Thursday that the U.S. and South Korea call off joint military drills in February and March, warning that the exercises could push relations to a “catastrophe.”
“We sternly warn the U.S. and the South Korean authorities to stop the dangerous military exercises which may push the situation on the peninsula and the north-south ties to a catastrophe,” the North’s state news said, according to Reuters. The North has called the annual drills a prelude to invasion.
The statement marks a return to the aggressive rhetoric, including threats of striking the United States, that put South Korea and its allies on edge in 2013, Reuters reports. In response, the U.S. strengthened its military presence in South Korea– which stands at nearly 30,000 troops – and flew Stealth bomber missions over the South.
Officials in the South said the allies will go ahead with the drills and that there is no sign of unusual activity in North Korea.
“If North Korea actually commits military aggression at the excuse of what is a normal exercise we conduct as preparation for emergency, our military will mercilessly and decisively punish them,” Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said, Reuters reports.