North Korea threatened on Tuesday to abandon the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War, accusing the United States of plotting a pre-emptive attack on the communist state.
A spokesman of the North's Korean People's Army said that the United States was building up reinforcements around the Korean Peninsula in preparations to attack the North, said the North's official news agency KCNA.
"The situation is, therefore, getting more serious as the days go by as it is putting its plan for pre-emptive attacks on the (North) into practice with increased zeal," KCNA quoted the unidentified spokesman as saying.
If North Korea abandons the armistice, it would remove the only legal mechanism that is keeping an uneasy peace on the divided Korean Peninsula.
The 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not with a peace treaty. The peninsula is technically still at a state of war. The border between the two Koreas is the world's most heavily armed.
North Korea has previously threatened to pull out of the armistice in an attempt to increase tension with the United States and force Washington to start negotiations with the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang.
The North Korean spokesman said the "grave situation created by the undisguised war acts committed by the U.S. in breach of the armistice agreement compels the Korean People's Army side, its warring party, to immediately take all steps to cope with it."
"If the U.S. side continues violating and misusing the armistice agreement as it pleases, there will be no need for the (North) to remain bound to the armistice agreement uncomfortably," the spokesman said.
The North Korean statement, which was carried by KCNA on Tuesday was issued Monday by the spokesman of the North Korean military's mission to Panmunjom, a truce village where the U.S.-led U.N. Command and the North Korean military meet to oversee the armistice.
The North accused the United States of violating the armistice agreement by sending reinforcements around the Korean Peninsula and planning to impose a naval blockade against the impoverished, communist state.
Tension has been rising in Korea over the North's recent decision to restart its nuclear programs in violations of international treaties.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon and State Department are developing sanctions to use if North Korea escalates the nuclear crisis — especially if it takes advantage of war in the Middle East, a newspaper reports.
Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency referred North Korea's case to the United Nations Security Council, which could impose sanctions. That seems unlikely, since China and Russia oppose them and North Korea has vowed to treat new sanctions as acts of war.
But according to the New York Times, the U.S. is considering ways of cutting off North Korea's weapons sales and halting the flow of cash to North Korea from expatriates.
The planning is being conducted because some feel North Korea will soon test long-range missiles or begin reprocessing spent nuclear fuel into material that could be used for bombs. It may make these moves if the United States goes to war against Iraq.