N. Korea cutting of military hotline 'provocative': US

North Korea's severing of a military hotline with the South at a time of heightened tension was a provocative step, a US defense department spokesman said Wednesday.

"This is yet another provocative and unconstructive step that the North Korean regime has taken," Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

"It's very important for the regime to focus on what we think is the right course of action, and that is peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, and their provocations and bellicose rhetoric aren't helpful in the situation."

The decision to sever the last direct communication link with the South coincided with an announcement that the North's top leadership would meet in the next few days to discuss an "important issue" and make a "drastic turn."

The hotline move was relayed by a senior North Korean military official to his South Korean counterpart just before the link was severed.

"Under the situation where a war may break out any moment, there is no need to keep up North-South military communications," the official was quoted as saying by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Cutting the hotline was the latest in a series of threats and actions that have raised tensions on the Korean peninsula since the North's long-range rocket launch in December and its nuclear test last month.

Both events triggered UN sanctions that infuriated Pyongyang, which has spent the past month issuing increasingly bellicose statements about unleashing an "all-out war."

State Department acting deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Washington remained in close contact with its allies in the region as the situation unfolds.

A communications channel, which allows contact between North Korea and the United States even though they have no diplomatic ties, also remained open, he said.

"We remain prepared to engage constructively with North Korea, but North Korea must live up to its commitments, adhere to its international obligations, deal peacefully with its neighbors and refrain from this provocative action," Ventrell told journalists.