NORTH Korea has said that joint military drills due to start today, involving the United States and South Korea, could trigger nuclear war.

About 12,000 US military personnel and 230 planes are expected to participate in the exercise, named Vigilant Ace.

Said to be the largest ever co-operative air exercise between the allies, it is scheduled to last five days. It comes less than a week after North Korea’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile test, which Pyongyang claimed was capable of hitting the western US mainland.

In an editorial yesterday, North Korea’s ruling party Rodong newspaper said the drill was “an open, all-out provocation” and that it “may lead to a nuclear war at any moment”.

The piece added: “The US and South Korean puppet warmongers would be well advised to bear in mind that their DPRK-targeted military drill will be as foolish as an act precipitating their self-destruction.”

Earlier, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un thanked workers at a factory that built the tyres for a huge vehicle used to transport the new intercontinental ballistic missile est-launched this week.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim tasked the Amnokgang Tire Factory in September to produce the large-size tires for the nine-axle missile trucks during preparations for the “great event in November”.

South Korea’s military said the Hwasong-15 ICMB, launched on Wednesday, is potentially capable of striking targets as far as 13,000 kilometres (8100 miles) away, which would put Washington within reach.

The KCNA said Kim complimented workers and called for further efforts to raise production to satisfy “the daily-increasing needs in developing the country’s economy and beefing up national defence capabilities”.

White House national security adviser HR McMaster said on Saturday that the potential for war between the US and North Korea is increasing every day.

He said Washington was “in a race” to address the threat North Korea poses but told a defence forum in California that war was not the only solution.

“There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict, but it is a race because he [Kim] is getting closer and closer, and there’s not much time left,” McMaster said.

He urged China to enforce a total oil embargo on the north to make it difficult to fuel missile launches.

McMaster said: “We’re asking China to act in China’s interest, as they should, and we believe increasingly that it’s in China’s urgent interest to do more. You can’t shoot a missile without fuel.”