North Korea threatened "physical response measures" including "ruthless retaliatory strikes" on Monday, protesting an announcement from South Korean and US officials who said the countries would deploy an anti-missile system on the peninsula.
The warning came hours after Pyongyang said it would end a diplomatic communication channel with the US and hinted at harsher punishments for Americans detained in North Korea, responses to the US Treasury Department's personal blacklist of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un for human rights abuses.
Though South Korea and the US have maintained the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system is merely to shield them from any attacks from the north, the system has enraged Pyongyang, which has repeatedly threatened to retaliate.
"There will be physical response measures from us as soon as the location and time that the invasionary tool for US world supremacy, THAAD, will be brought into South Korea are confirmed," North Korea's military said in a statement.
"It is the unwavering will of our army to deal a ruthless retaliatory strike and turn (the South) into a sea of fire and a pile of ashes the moment we have an order to carry it out," the statement, broadcast by the North’s official KCNA news agency, said.
THAAD is an advanced defense system designed to intercept short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.
The United States, with 28,500 troops in South Korea, has long touted the system as a way to prevent North Korean missile strikes, as The Christian Science Monitor reported Friday. South Korea, however, has been hesitant to allow the deployment of the system on its soil because it feared China would no longer restrain North Korea's nuclear and other weapons programs.
But several North Korean nuclear and missile tests this year have led South Korea to reconsider.
A South Korean Defense Ministry official said the selection of a site for THAAD would come "within weeks," and it and the US plan to have it operational by the end of 2017.
The announcement comes as Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test this year, and launched a long-range rocket.
Pyongyang’s heavy-handed threat against the South and the US is a common rhetorical tactic. It frequently threatens attacks against the South and the US in Asia and the Pacific, according to Reuters. Still, South Korea urged its northern neighbor to show restraint.
Moon Sang-guyn, a spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry, warned the North to not take “rash and foolish action.” Otherwise, he said, it would face “decisive and strong punishment from our military.”
South Korea attempted to assuage China, as the South and the US have said the defense system is to protect them against any attack from the North, not to target or threaten other countries including China and Russia. Still, its potential presence on the peninsula has worried the eastern superpowers.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Saturday that THAAD exceeded the security needs of the peninsula, and implied a "conspiracy behind this move."
The Russian foreign ministry has also expressed dissatisfaction with the system, saying its deployment will "very negatively affect global strategic security." It also said its deployment could escalate tensions in the region.
On Monday, South Korea just urged China, its largest trading partner, to separate politics and economics.
This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.