Seoul: North Korea accused the United States on Tuesday of pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war after a pair of strategic U.S. bombers flew training drills with the South Korean and Japanese air forces in another show of strength.
The two supersonic B-1B Lancer bombers were deployed amid rising tensions over North Korea's pursuit of its nuclear and missile programmes in defiance of U.N. sanctions and pressure from the United States.
The flight of the two bombers on Monday came as U.S. President Donald Trump said he would be "honoured" to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the right circumstances, and as his CIA director landed in South Korea for talks.
South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told a briefing in Seoul that Monday's joint drill was conducted to deter provocations by the North.
North Korea said the bombers conducted "a nuclear bomb dropping drill against major objects" in its territory at a time when Trump and "other U.S. warmongers are crying out for making a preemptive nuclear strike" on the North.
"The reckless military provocation is pushing the situation on the Korean peninsula closer to the brink of nuclear war," the North's official KCNA news agency said on Tuesday.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been high for weeks, driven by concerns that the North might conduct its sixth nuclear test in defiance of pressure from the United States and Pyongyang's sole major ally, China.
The U.S. military's THAAD anti-missile defence system has reached initial operational capacity in South Korea, U.S. officials told Reuters, although they cautioned that it would not be fully operational for some months.
Acting South Korean president Hwang Kyo-ahn called for stronger vigilance because of continuing provocation by North Korea and for countries such as China to increase pressure on the North.
Soon after Hwang spoke, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Seoul said the director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, was in South Korea for meetings with the embassy and U.S. Forces in Korea.
Trump drew criticism in Washington on Monday when he said he would be "honoured" to meet North Korea's young leader.
"If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honoured to do it," Trump told Bloomberg News.
Trump did not say what conditions would be needed for such a meeting to occur or when it could happen.
"Clearly conditions are not there right now," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.
Trump warned in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that a "major, major conflict" with North Korea was possible, while China said last week the situation on the Korean peninsula could escalate or slip out of control.
In a show of force, the United States has already sent an aircraft carrier strike group, led by the USS Carl Vinson, to waters off the Korean peninsula to conduct drills with South Korea and Japan.
North Korea test-launched a missile on Saturday that appeared to have failed within minutes, its fourth successive failed launch since March. It has conducted two nuclear tests and a series of missile-related activities at an unprecedented pace since the beginning of last year.
The North is technically still at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty, and regularly threatens to destroy the United States, Japan and South Korea.