South Korea, US begin exercises as North Korea threatens attack

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North Korea Threatens All-Out Response to U.S.-South Korean Military Drills

SEOUL, March 7 (Reuters) - South Korean and U.S. troops began large-scale military exercises on Monday in an annual test of their defenses against North Korea, which called the drills "nuclear war moves" and threatened to respond with an all-out offensive.

South Korea said the exercises would be the largest ever following North Korea's fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch last month that triggered a U.N. Security Council resolution and tough new sanctions.

Isolated North Korea has rejected criticism of is nuclear and rocket programs, even from old ally China, and last week leader Kim Jong Un ordered his country to be ready to use nuclear weapons in the face of what he sees as growing threats from enemies.

See more of the tension between South Korea and North Korea:

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South Korea, US begin exercises as North Korea threatens attack
A man watches a TV screen showing a file footage of the missile launch conducted by North Korea, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, March 18, 2016. North Korea defied U.N. resolutions by firing a medium-range ballistic missile into the sea on Friday, Seoul and Washington officials said, days after its leader Kim Jong Un ordered weapons tests linked to its pursuit of a long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The letters on the screen read " The missile puts all of South Korea and part of Japan within striking distance." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
An anti-war protester clenches his fist during a rally opposing the joint military exercises, dubbed Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, between the U.S. and South Korea, near the government complex in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, March 19, 2016. North Korea ignored U.N. resolutions by firing a medium-range ballistic missile into the sea on Friday, Seoul and Washington officials said, days after its leader Kim Jong Un ordered weapons tests linked to its pursuit of a long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The letters at a card read " Stop military exercise". (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a TV screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. North Korean leader Kim has warned of impending tests of a nuclear warhead explosion and ballistic missiles capable of carrying atomic warheads, state media reported Tuesday, in an escalation of threats against Seoul and Washington. The screen reads "Nuclear technology." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean army soldiers ride a K-1 tank during the annual exercise with their U.S. counterparts in Paju, near the border with North Korea, Thursday, March 10, 2016. North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday, South Korea's military said, a likely show of anger at continuing springtime war games by rivals Washington and Seoul and another ratcheting up of hostility on the already anxious Korean Peninsula. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Anti-war protesters stage a rally opposing the joint military exercises, dubbed Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, between the U.S. and South Korea, near the government complex in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, March 19, 2016. North Korea ignored U.N. resolutions by firing a medium-range ballistic missile into the sea on Friday, Seoul and Washington officials said, days after its leader Kim Jong Un ordered weapons tests linked to its pursuit of a long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The letters at banners, read" Stop military exercise". (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a TV screen showing a file footage of a missile launch conducted by North Korea, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, March 18, 2016. North Korea defied U.N. resolutions by firing a medium-range ballistic missile into the sea on Friday, Seoul and Washington officials said, days after its leader Kim Jong Un ordered weapons tests linked to its pursuit of a long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The letters on the screen read " North Korea fired a missile against the ongoing joint military exercises,dubbed Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, between South Korea and the United States.: (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
FILE - In this March 10, 2016, file photo, U.S. Army soldiers conduct the annual exercise with their South Korean counterparts in Pocheon, near the border with North Korea. North Korea said Saturday, March 12, 2016, its military is ready to pre-emptively attack and "liberate" the South in its latest outburst against the annual joint military drills by the United States and South Korea. In a statement carried through state media, the General Staff of the North's Korean People's Army said its frontline units are prepared to strike first if they see signs that American and South Korean troops involved in the drills were attempting to invade the North. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)
People watch a TV news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with superimposed letters that read: "North Korea has made nuclear warheads small enough to fit on ballistic missiles" at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March 9, 2016. The official North Korean news agency says the communist country's leader Kim met his nuclear scientists for a briefing and declared he was greatly pleased that warheads had been miniaturized for use on ballistic missiles. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean protesters shout slogans during a rally criticizing U.N. sanction on North Korea and upcoming joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, March 5, 2016. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his military on standby for nuclear strikes at any time, state media reported Friday, an escalation in rhetoric targeting rivals Seoul and Washington that may not yet reflect the country's actual nuclear capacity. The banners read " Stop the joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea," and "Park Geun-hye, step down." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
North Korean defectors wearing masks of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attend a rally against North Korea's rocket launch and nuclear test in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A woman poses for a souvenir photo in front of ribbons hanging on a wire fence for the reunification of the two Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Transmission towers supplying power to the Kaesong Industrial Complex from South Korea, are seen on a foggy and rainy day after South Korea cut off power, in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Tourists take their souvenir photos in front of ribbons hanging on a wire fence wishing for the reunification of the two Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Tourists take their souvenir photos with a directional sign showing the distance to North Korea's Kaesong city and South Korea's capital Seoul at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
One of owners who run a factory in the suspended inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex, covers his face with his hands during an emergency meeting, held by the council of South Korean companies operating in the industrial park, in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war."(AP Photo/Ahnn Young-joon)
South Korean vehicles pass near the military barricade as a soldier, right, stands in the foggy and rainy morning at Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
South Korean Army soldiers walk on a foggy and rainy morning at Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
South Korean Army military polices check the vehicles on a foggy and rainy morning at Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo speaks in a televised press conference, as owners watch it during an emergency meeting held by the council of South Korean companies operating in the inter-Korean Kaesong industrial complex, in Seoul, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war."(AP Photo/Ahnn Young-joon)
South Korean owners who run a factory in the suspended inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex, attend an emergency meeting held by the council of South Korean companies operating in the industrial park, in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of the factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war."(AP Photo/Ahnn Young-joon)
South Korean owners who run factories in the suspended inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex, attend an emergency meeting in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war."(AP Photo/Ahnn Young-joon)
In this Feb. 11, 2016, photo, power supply towers are seen in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea. South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean business men return from North Korea's joint Kaesong Industrial Complex at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war."(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Koreans holding umbrellas wait for their companies' vehicles returning from North Korea's joint Kaesong Industrial Complex after crossing the Unification Bridge, near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
South Korean Army soldiers patrol at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that was the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, saying Seoul's suspension of operations at the jointly run facility was a "dangerous declaration of war." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A man watches a television news program reporting about the recent rocket launch by North Korea at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. Under the gaze of armed soldiers, large white trucks streamed across the world's most armed border Thursday as South Korean workers on Thursday began shutting down a jointly run industrial park in North Korea. The South's suspension will end, at least temporarily, the Koreas' last major cooperation project as punishment over Pyongyang's recent rocket launch. The letters read: "North, Long range missile launch." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
A South Korean man holding a crossed North Korean flag shouts slogans among placards with crossed portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pasted with the radiation warning symbol during an anti-North Korea rally in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. Under the gaze of armed soldiers, large white trucks streamed across the world's most armed border Thursday as South Korean workers on Thursday began shutting down a jointly run industrial park in North Korea. The South's suspension will end, at least temporarily, the Koreas' last major cooperation project as punishment over Pyongyang's recent rocket launch. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Pictures of North Korean flags, the North's leader Kim Jong Un and North's missiles are burned by anti-North Korea protesters during a rally in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. Under the gaze of armed soldiers, large white trucks streamed across the world's most armed border Thursday as South Korean workers on Thursday began shutting down a jointly run industrial park in North Korea. The South's suspension will end, at least temporarily, the Koreas' last major cooperation project as punishment over Pyongyang's recent rocket launch.(AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
South Korean vehicles returning from North Korea's joint Kaesong Industrial Complex pass the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. South Korean workers on Thursday began shutting down a jointly run industrial park in North Korea, a move that will end, at least temporarily, the Koreas' last major cooperation project as punishment over Pyongyang's recent rocket launch. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean Army soldiers patrol at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. South Korean workers on Thursday began shutting down a jointly run industrial park in North Korea, a move that will end, at least temporarily, the Koreas' last major cooperation project as punishment over Pyongyang's recent rocket launch. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A South Korean Army soldier stands guard at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. South Korean workers on Thursday began shutting down a jointly run industrial park in North Korea, a move that will end, at least temporarily, the Koreas' last major cooperation project as punishment over Pyongyang's recent rocket launch. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A visitor looks at a map of the Korean peninsula at the exhibition hall of the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. South Korea says it will suspend the operations at a joint industrial park with North Korea in response to the North's recent rocket launch. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
A visitor looks at the map of Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea at its showroom at the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. South Korea says it will suspend the operations at a joint industrial park with North Korea in response to the North's recent rocket launch. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Visitors use binoculars to see the North Korean territory from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. South Korea said Wednesday that it would suspend operations at a joint industrial park with North Korea in response to the North's recent rocket launch, the first time in the park's decade of operation that Seoul has halted work there. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
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The joint U.S. and South Korean military command said it had notified North Korea of "the non-provocative nature of this training" involving about 17,000 American troops and more than 300,000 South Koreans.

South Korea's Defence Ministry said it had seen no sign of any unusual military activity by the North.

North Korea's National Defence Commission said the North Korean army and people would "realize the greatest desire of the Korean nation through a sacred war of justice for reunification," in response to any attack by U.S. and South Korean forces.

"The army and people of the DPRK will launch an all-out offensive to decisively counter the U.S. and its followers' hysterical nuclear war moves," the North Korean commission said in a statement carried by the North's KCNA news agency.

The North, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), as it is officially known, routinely issues threats of military action in response to the annual exercises that it sees as preparation for war against it.

The threat on Monday was in line with the usual rhetoric it uses to denounce the drills.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei noted that North Korea had already said it opposed the drills, adding that Beijing was "deeply concerned" about the exercises.

"China is linked to the Korean Peninsula. In terms of the peninsula's security, China is deeply concerned and firmly opposed to any trouble-making behavior on the peninsula's doorstep. We urge all sides to keep calm, exercise restraint and not escalate tensions," he told a daily news briefing.

The latest U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea were drafted by the United States and China as punishment for its nuclear test and satellite launch, which the United States and others say was really a test of ballistic missile technology.

South Korea's spy agency said it would hold an emergency cyber-security meeting on Tuesday to check readiness against any threat of cyber attack from the North, after detecting evidence of attempts by the North to hack into South Korean mobile phones.

South Korea has been on heightened cyber alert since the nuclear test and the rocket launch.

South Korea and the U.S. militaries began talks on Friday on the deployment of an advanced anti-missile Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in South Korea. (Reporting by Jack Kim and James Pearson; Additional reporting by Jessica Macy Yu in BEIJING; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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