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New York Times

SEOUL, South Korea - On an anniversary known for military showmanship, North Korean generals said Thursday their forces were ready to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles and kamikaze-like nuclear attacks at the United States if threatened.

"Stalwart pilots, once given a sortie order, will load nuclear bombs, instead of fuel for return, and storm enemy strongholds to blow them up," the North's official Korean Central News Agency quoted Ri Pyong Chol, its air and anti-air force commander, as saying during a ceremony in observance of the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean People's Army.

Another general, Kim Rak Gyom, the strategic rocket force commander, reiterated the claim that the North is "one click away from pushing the launch button."

"If the U.S. imperialists and their followers dare make a pre-emptive attack, they will be made to keenly realize what a real nuclear war and real retaliatory blows are like," he said.

Threats to launch nuclear strikes and warnings of "nuclear holocaust" have become common. Although North Korea is thought to have a small nuclear weapons arsenal, most analysts doubt it could deliver them to the United States by missile.

Most analysts think Kim Jong Un, the North's leader, is using the nuclear bluster to consolidate the support of his people and bolster his leverage in dealing with Washington and its allies.

The threatening statements come after days of relative quiet that followed weeks of warnings of dire consequences if the United States and South Korea provoked the North.