Click image to see more photos of South Korea-U.S. joint military drills. (Lee Jin-man/AP)
North Korea publicly condemned the use of its flag by U.S. and South Korean forces during a war simulation as a "grave" provocation—and further justification for its nuclear program.
"It is an extremely grave military action and politically-motivated provocation to fire live bullets and shells at the flag of a sovereign state without a declaration of war," the North Korean foreign ministry said in a statement on state-run media on Sunday.
Approximately 2,000 U.S. and South Korean troops took part in Friday's simulation, according to Agence France-Presse—the "largest single-day joint live-fire exercise," timed to mark the 62nd anniversary of the start of the Korean War. The joint military drills took place at a training field in Pocheon, South Korea, near the North Korean border. U.S. and South Korean forces are also staging a three-day naval drill in the Yellow Sea.
According to the news agency, it was unclear whether the flag was hit during the exercise.
North Korea said the drills are evidence of U.S. hostility and justify North Korea's nuclear buildup. The country "will further bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defense as long as the U.S., the world's biggest nuclear weapons state, persists in its hostile policy," a foreign ministry spokesman said, according to The Associated Press.
South Korea, which said it was the first time North Korea's flag was used during war games, was unapologetic.
"We used it to show our determination to strongly respond to any provocations by North Korea," a South Korean spokesman told AFP.
In April, North Korea attempted to launch a long-range missile but failed. The United States and its allies denounced the attempt as "provocative."
"Animosity between North and South Korea, as well as between Pyongyang and Washington, has deepened" ever since, the Guardian said. "Seoul and Washington called the launch a cover for a test of banned long-range missile technology. North Korea said the rocket, which broke apart shortly after liftoff, was designed to put a satellite into orbit."
Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, "North Korea's provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. "The President has been clear that he is prepared to engage constructively with North Korea. However, he has also insisted that North Korea live up to its own commitments, adhere to its international obligations and deal peacefully with its neighbors."