SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea on Saturday warned the top American military commander in South Korea that if the United States pressed ahead with joint military exercises with South Korea scheduled to begin next month, it could set off a war in which American forces would "meet a miserable destruction."
The warning came as the United States and South Korean militaries planned to kick off their Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint war games, beginning early next month. The allies regularly conduct such joint military drills, and whenever they happen, North Korea warns of war and threatens to deliver a devastating blow to American and South Korean troops.
North Korea's harsh reaction, though not unusual, came amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula after the North's third nuclear test, on Feb. 12. Washington and its allies are pushing for more sanctions against North Korea while the North vows to take unspecified steps to retaliate against such sanctions.
"If your side ignites a war of aggression by staging the reckless joint military exercises Key Resolve and Foal Eagle again under the cover of 'defensive and annual ones' at this dangerous time, from that moment your fate will be hung by a thread with every hour," Pak Rim-su, chief delegate of the North Korean military mission to the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom, said Saturday in a message to Gen. James D. Thurman, the American commander in South Korea.
It continued, "You had better bear in mind that those igniting a war are destined to meet a miserable destruction."
The text of the message, dictated through the telephone at Panmunjom, was carried by the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency. There was no immediate reaction from the United States military.
Panmunjom, a village straddling the western border between the Koreas, remains the sole contact point between North Korea and the United States military. The United States fought on South Korea's side during the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula technically at war. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea.
North Korea and the United States military exchange messages through Panmunjom, established at the time of the Korean War armistice.
The United States military uses the Panmunjom channel to inform North Korea of its planned annual military drills with South Korea, which it says are for defensive purposes.
Although North Korea's state-run news media have always carried official statements condemning the exercises as rehearsals for invasion, it was unclear how often the North has also responded directly through Panmunjom. The last time it did so was in August, when the United States and South Korea conducted a joint military exercise.
After its December satellite launching and its subsequent nuclear test, North Korea has stepped up its bellicose language. In the past three days, North Korean news media have reported that the country's leader, Kim Jong-un, has been making a round of visits to military units. During one of those visits, Mr. Kim vowed that if war broke out, his troops would "blow away the bastion of aggression without a trace," K.C.N.A. reported Saturday.
When the United States and South Korea conduct joint military drills, North Korea counters with its own military exercises. Anti-American messages, already daily fare in the North, increase at those times as the leadership uses a sense of crisis to strengthen popular support.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.