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Amid tensions, S. Korea stages military drills

Action follows North’s test of nuclear weapon

South Korean troops set up barbed wire fencing during a military exercise near the demilitarized zone in Paju, South Korea, on Thursday.

Ahn Young-joon /Associated Press

South Korean troops set up barbed wire fencing during a military exercise near the demilitarized zone in Paju, South Korea, on Thursday.

SEOUL — South Korea flexed its military muscle on Thursday by staging large military drills and disclosing a new cruise missile capable of hitting any target in North Korea, as the North became increasingly candid about its intentions to build intercontinental ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear warheads.

‘‘We no longer hide but publicly declare: If the imperialists have nuclear weapons, we must have them, and if they have intercontinental ballistic missiles, we must have them, too,’’ the North’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the most authoritative mouthpiece for the North’s leadership, said in a commentary published Thursday. ‘‘Anger seeks weapons.’’

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Imperialist is the word that North Korea uses to refer to the United States.

Washington and its allies have condemned North Korea’s launching of a satellite in December and its underground nuclear test Tuesday as a cover for developing nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles capable of reaching North America. But only recently did the North begin publicly indicating that it intended to build such missiles.

On Jan. 24, it said that Washington hostility, which it said was behind United Nations sanctions against the country, were forcing it to redirect its rocket and nuclear programs to ‘‘target against the US.’’

Although blustering is a common propaganda trope for North Korea, its increasingly public boasting comes amid growing concerns among the governments in the region that North Korea is moving closer to building workable long-range nuclear missiles. If unchecked, US officials fear, the North’s drive would embolden Iran to pursue its own nuclear ambitions despite stiff sanctions.

‘‘It’s important for the world to have credibility with respect to our nonproliferation efforts,’’ Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday in urging the world to make a ‘‘swift, clear, strong and credible response’’ to the North’s third nuclear test. ‘‘What our response is with respect to this will have an impact on all other nonproliferation efforts.’’

South Korea’s reaction has been swift. On Thursday, its political parties put aside their bickering over domestic politics and passed nearly unanimously a parliamentary resolution condemning the North’s nuclear test. Its navy deployed destroyers and submarines off its eastern coast to test their combat readiness.

South Korea started a similar naval drill off the western coast on Wednesday and planned to kick off live-fire drills on Friday involving rockets and artillery near the land border with North Korea. Meanwhile, the US military, which keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea, was staging an air drill mobilizing jet fighters of the two allies.

Also Thursday, the South’s Defense Ministry offered a rare glimpse of its military capabilities by releasing a 50-second video clip that showed two cruise missiles blasting targets after they were launched by a South Korean submarine and destroyer. It was the first time the South Korean military has publicly disclosed the recently deployed missiles, believed to have a range of 620 miles, and it did so with a bravado that reflected the tension on the divided peninsula after the North Korean test.

“Our cruise missile shown today is a precision-guided weapon so accurate that it can be directed to smash through the window of a North Korean command post from anywhere on the Korean Peninsula,’’ Kim Min Seok, a ministry spokesman, said during a media briefing.

The disclosure came the same day that Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin of South Korea visited his military’s rocket command, as well as its Agency for Defense Development, which is in charge of developing ballistic missiles capable of reaching any target in the North.

“North Korea as a whole is a hopeless rogue state that will continue to launch provocations,’’ Kim was quoted as saying by the national news agency Yonhap during his visit to the rocket command.

The North’s nuclear test deepened doubts over the effectiveness of the efforts by the United States, China, and other regional powers to curb its nuclear and missile ambitions. For its part, North Korea has recently warned that UN sanctions would cause it to take ‘‘second and third measures of greater intensity’’ and could even ignite an ‘‘all-out war.’’

“We are neither surprised nor confused by them; they were imposed on us regularly and countless times,’’ Rodong, the North Korean newspaper, said Thursday, about the prospects of more U.N. sanctions, which it called part of Washington’s long effort to subjugate the recalcitrant nation. ‘‘They are not fighting against our nuclear weapons or satellites but against our sovereignty.’’

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