* U.S. condemns North Korean rhetoric, says prepared for any
* Pentagon believes North Korean rocket could hit United
* South Korea sees no sign of imminent N.Korean military
(Adds reaction from Hawaii resident, paragraphs 17-19)
By Jack Kim and Ju-min Park
SEOUL, March 26 North Korea repeated threats on
Tuesday to target U.S. military bases as Washington and its
allies tightened economic sanctions against the isolated country
by targeting Pyongyang's main foreign exchange bank with new
The rhetoric from North Korea - which has threatened the
United States with nuclear war and rehearsed drone attacks on
South Korea - and Washington's hardening reaction, drew more
concern from China, Pyongyang's only major ally, which said the
situation was "sensitive".
Pyongyang says United Nations sanctions, agreed after North
Korea carried out a third nuclear test in February, are part of
a Washington-led plot to topple its leadership.
"From this moment, the Supreme Command of the Korean
People's Army will be putting into combat duty posture No. 1 all
field artillery units, including long-range artillery units and
strategic rocket units, that will target all enemy objects in
U.S. invasionary bases on its mainland, Hawaii and Guam," the
North's KCNA news agency said.
The order was issued in a statement from the North Korea's
military "supreme command."
The Pentagon condemned North Korea's rhetoric, saying it was
designed to "raise tensions and intimidate others."
"They need to stop threatening peace on the peninsula. That
doesn't help anyone ... and we stand ready to respond to any
contingency," Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters.
The Pentagon has declined to define the range of North
Korea's rockets, saying it is classified. But Admiral James
Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
acknowledged on March 15 that one type of North Korean missile
likely had the range to reach the United States.
South Korea's defence ministry said it saw no sign of
imminent military action by North Korea and most military
analysts say Pyongyang will not risk a conflict with the United
States that it would lose.
South Korea and the U.S. military are conducting military
drills until the end of April, which they have stressed are
strictly defensive in nature. The North accuses Washington of
war preparations by using B-52 bombers which have flown over the
Korean peninsula as part of the drills, and it has abrogated an
armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
The Pentagon said there have been three such flights by U.S.
B-52 bombers since March 8, with the most recent one on Monday.
Officials said Japan and Australia plan to impose sanctions
on North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank as part of U.S.-led efforts
targeting Pyongyang's funding for its nuclear programme.
China again called on all parties to show restraint. "At
present, the situation on the Korean peninsula remains complex
and sensitive," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
Pyongyang's aggressive rhetoric appears to mark a further
attempt to boost the military credentials of Kim Jong-un, who
took power in December 2011 after the death of his father. He
has cemented the role of the military and the North's nuclear
weapons and missile ambitions with the nuclear test and two
long-range rocket launches.
KCNA said on Tuesday that Kim had guided a landing operation
by combined units including the North Korean navy.
"This is a mythmaking for the (military) commander," said
Jeung Young-tae, a senior analyst at the Korea Institute of
National Unification in Seoul.
Many Americans appeared unfazed by what the Pentagon
described as a "well-worn pattern" of rhetoric and threats from
"I think they're threatening more than anything else. I
don't' feel very threatened," said Sophie Hara, a Hawaii
"It's just a bluff."
South Korea marked the third anniversary on Tuesday of the
sinking of a navy ship that killed 46 sailors that it and the
United States have blamed on North Korea. Pyongyang denied the
On March 22, South Korea and the United States signed a
"counter-provocation plan" meant to fine tune joint reaction to
any future North Korean military strikes. The Pentagon said
details of the plan were classified.
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington and Suzanne
Roig in Honolulu; Editing by Ian Geoghegan and David Brunnstrom)