North Korea's rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the US mainland has fueled a surge in regional tension and United Nations -led sanctions appear to have failed to bite deeply enough to change its behavior.
THE US and South Korea have today begun massive military drills involving 80,000 soldiers - including Brit troops - as Kim Jong-un warns the "reckless" actions could trigger a nuclear war.
South Korea's President Moon Jae-in said North Korea must not use the drills as a pretext to launch fresh provocation.
"There is no intent at all to heighten military tension on the Korean peninsula as these drills are held annually and are of a defensive nature", Moon told cabinet ministers.
President Kim Jong Un's regime slammed the annual drills while also vowing vowing that Guam, Hawaii and the USA mainland could not escape a "merciless strike", CNN reported Sunday.
"The Trump group's declaration of the reckless nuclear war exercises against the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea).is a reckless behavior driving the situation into the uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war", an editorial in the official government newspaper Rodong Sinmun read.
North Korea had launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July and announced a plan to strike near Guam with four mid-range missiles.
North Korea issues trademark fiery rhetoric over US-South Korea drills
Jeong Yong-ki, a spokesman for the main opposition Liberty Party Korea. "I want to warn North Korea to do no more risky gambling", Moon said.
In a month in which President Trump and the North Korean regime have already traded nuclear threats, analysts predict the routine war games could be tenser than ever.
"I don't know exactly when (it will happen), but a sixth nuclear test is a less risky option for North Korea than firing missiles towards Guam".
While the allies are pushing ahead with the exercises that date back to 1976, around 17,500 United States troops will participate in the drills - a cutback from previous year.
The North responded by threatening to fire missiles toward the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam, but later said it was holding off while it waited to see what the United States would do next. "These exercises also highlight the longstanding military partnership, commitment and enduring friendship between the two nations, help to ensure peace and security on the peninsula, and reaffirm US commitment to the alliance". Troops from Australia, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom will join in as well.
"The joint exercise is the most explicit expression of hostility against us, and no one can guarantee that the exercise won't evolve into actual fighting", the editorial read, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.
But Mattis has not backed down from the possibility of a military confrontation with North Korea.
Gallucci added that he's hopeful Kim has gotten the message that now is not the right time for a new nuclear or ICBM test. "I'm hoping he's deterred from this and that his reaction would be limited to the bombastic rhetoric for which he is expected".