SEOUL — The governments of North and South Korea escalated their hostile warnings to the highest level in years on Friday, with each threatening to annihilate the other a day after the UN Security Council unanimously imposed tightened sanctions on the North for its nuclear test last month.
North Korea said it was nullifying all nonaggression agreements with South Korea, and one of its top generals claimed his country had nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles ready to blast off. South Korea said that if North Korea attacked the South with a nuclear weapon, the government of the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, would be ‘‘erased from the earth.”
It was the most vitriolic verbal back-and-forth between the two Koreas, still technically at war, since they engaged in an artillery skirmish three years ago, and it reflected the heightened tensions that followed the Security Council’s 15-0 vote to further penalize North Korea in response to the Feb. 12 nuclear test, its third.
The mutual warnings also represented a clash of nerves between the young North Korean leader, who is building his credentials as head of his militaristic country, and Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s first female president, who has stressed security as her top priority.
While analysts say North Korea does not have the technical ability to use nuclear-tipped missiles, that did not stop it from threatening to deploy them.
“If we push the button, they will blast off and their barrage will turn Washington, the stronghold of American imperialists and the nest of evil, and its followers, into a sea of fire,’’ said Kang Pyo Yong, the vice defense minister of North Korea.
His speech Thursday in the capital, Pyongyang, was carried Friday by the North’s main party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun. On Saturday, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement repeating that the North’s ‘‘status as a nuclear state’’ would become ‘‘permanent’’ and calling its nuclear arsenal the strong guarantee of its sovereignty and security.
In the past few days, North Korea’s state-run media have carried a slew of official remarks threatening to launch ‘‘preemptive nuclear strikes’’ at the United States and South Korea with ‘‘lighter and smaller nukes,’’ hinting that the country has built nuclear warheads small enough to mount on long-range missiles. But American and South Korean officials doubt that the North has mastered that technology, despite its launching of a long-range rocket in December and its nuclear test last month.
South Korean military officials called the remarks bluster, designed not so much to threaten Washington as to infuse the North with a sense of crisis and empowerment as Kim consolidates his grip on power and uses his country’s growing confrontation with the outside world to enhance his status at home.
The North’s state media have shown tearful soldiers running into his arms or shaking their rifles overhead in jubilation during Kim’s visits to their units. North Korean television reports have also shown soldiers rushing waist-deep into the ocean to see Kim off after a recent visit to a front-line island. Such scenes are not unusual in North Korea, where the media depict the nation’s leader as a fatherlike protector.
Park, however, warned that with its behavior, North Korea was only hurting itself.
North Korea ‘‘will collapse in self-destruction if it continues to waste its resources on nuclear weapons development while its people are going hungry,’’ she said Friday at a commission ceremony for young military officers.
Also Friday, North Korea said it was nullifying all denuclearization agreements and cutting off the North-South hot line, in retaliation for the UN sanctions and the joint military exercises South Korea is staging with the United States.