North Korea has announced it is scrapping all non-aggression pacts with South Korea, closing its hotline with Seoul and shutting their shared border point.
The announcement follows a fresh round of UN sanctions punishing Pyongyang for its nuclear test last month.
Earlier, Pyongyang said it had a right to carry out a pre-emptive nuclear strike and was pulling out of the armistice which ended the Korean War.
The US said “extreme rhetoric” was not unusual for Pyongyang.
South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye said the current security situation was “very grave” but that she would “deal strongly” with provocation from the North.
Park Geun-hye also said she was ready to talk to Pyongyang if it “comes out on the path toward change”.
The North Korean announcement, carried on the KCNA state news agency, said the North was cancelling all non-aggression pacts with the South and closing the main Panmunjom border crossing inside the Demilitarized Zone.
It also said it was notifying the South that it was “immediately” cutting off the North-South hotline, saying there was “nothing to talk to the puppet group of traitors about”.
The hotline, installed in 1971, is intended as a means of direct communication at a time of high tension, but is also used to co-ordinate the passage of people and goods through the heavily-fortified Demilitarized Zone.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un also visited front-line military units that were involved in the shelling of a South Korean island in 2010, KCNA reports.
The reports said he had urged soldiers to keep themselves ready to “annihilate the enemy” at any time.
It appears the North is trying to build a sense of crisis domestically, with a large rally staged in Pyongyang on Friday and reports of camouflage netting on public transport.
North Korea has breached agreements before and withdrawing from them does not necessarily mean war, our correspondent says, but it does signal a more unpredictable and unstable situation.
Shutting down the hotline will leave both more exposed to misunderstandings, she adds.
Seoul’s defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said that if the North were to carry out a nuclear attack on South Korea it would become “extinct from the Earth by the will of mankind”.
Kim Min-seok also warned that in response to any provocation from the North, Seoul would “immediately” turn the US-South Korean military drills currently being conducted “into a punishment mode to respond to it as planned”.
The US, the main focus of North Korean ire, said it was capable of protecting itself and its allies from any attacks.
“One has to take what any government says seriously,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said of the nuclear threat.
“It is for that reason that I repeat here that we are fully capable of defending the United States. But I would also say that this kind of extreme rhetoric has not been unusual for this regime, unfortunately.”
The North Korean declaration came after the UN Security Council in New York unanimously backed Resolution 2094, imposing the fourth set of sanctions.
The resolution targets North Korean diplomats, cash transfers and access to luxury goods.
It imposes asset freezes and travel bans on three individuals and two firms linked to North Korea’s military.
South Korea’s ambassador to the UN, Kim Sook, said it was time for North Korea to “wake up from its delusion” of becoming a nuclear state.
“It can either take the right path toward a bright future and prosperity, or it can take a bad road toward further and deeper isolation and eventual self-destruction,” he said.
US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said the sanctions would “further constrain” North Korea’s ability to develop its nuclear programme.
Susan Rice warned that the UN would “take further significant actions” if Pyongyang were to carry out another nuclear test.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang issued a statement supporting the UN resolution and describing it as a “moderate response”.
Qin Gang said China – North Korea’s sole ally – urged “relevant parties” to stay calm and said the main priority was to “defuse the tensions, bring down heat” and restart negotiations with Pyongyang.
- Strongly condemns North Korea’s ongoing nuclear activities, including its uranium enrichment programme
- Imposes new sanctions to block financial transactions and bulk cash transfers in support of illicit activity
- Strengthens states’ authority to inspect suspicious cargo
- Requires states to deny port access to any North Korean vessel that refuses to be inspected
- Calls on states to deny permission to any aircraft to take off, land in or overfly their territory if the aircraft is suspected of transporting prohibited items
- Enables stronger enforcement of existing sanctions by UN member states
- Sanctions new individuals and entities