North Korea said on Wednesday it is “carefully examining” a plan to strike the US Pacific territory of Guam with missiles.
The threat followed warning by US President Donald Trump that any threat to the United States would be met with “fire”.
“North Korea had best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey on Tuesday.
“They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
But a spokesman for the Korean People’s Army, in a statement, said the strike plan will be “put into practice in a multi-current and consecutive way any moment” once leader Kim Jong-un makes a decision.
In another statement citing a different military spokesman, North Korea also said it could carry out a pre-emptive operation if the US showed signs of provocation.
The missile that North Korea is threatening to hit Guam was tested in May and South Korea’s intelligence analysts say it could fly up to 5,000 kilometres, “which does make Guam well within striking range”.
Guam hosts strategic US military installations – including both a naval and an air force base – and is more than 3,400km from North Korea.
Its population is around 160,000 but only about 6,000 US troops are currently stationed there.
Robert Kelly, professor of political science at Pusan National University, told Al Jazeera that both North Korea and Trump were exaggerating in their respective rhetoric.
“If the North Koreans were to strike Guam and kill a lot of Americans it would lead to a war which would destroy North Korea, so my guess is this is bluffing on both sides,” he said.
“But it certainly doesn’t help because it raises the possibility of miscalculation and misperception”.