SEOUL, South Korea – After a series of escalating threats, North Korea has moved a missile with “considerable range” to its east coast, South Korea’s defense minister said Thursday. But he emphasized that the missile was not capable of reaching the United States and that there are no signs that the North is preparing for a full-scale conflict.
North Korea has been railing against U.S.-South Korean military exercises that began in March and are to continue until the end of this month. The allies insist the exercises in South Korea are routine, but the North calls them rehearsals for an invasion and says it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself. The North has also expressed anger over tightened U.N. sanctions for its February nuclear test.
Analysts say the ominous warnings in recent weeks are probably efforts to provoke softer policies from South Korea, to win diplomatic talks with Washington and solidify the image of young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Many of the threats come in the middle of the night in Asia – daytime for the U.S. audience.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said he did not know the reasons behind the North’s missile movement, and that it “could be for testing or drills.”
He dismissed reports in Japanese media that the missile could be a KN-08, which is believed to be a long-range missile that if operable could hit the United States.
Kim told lawmakers at a parliamentary committee meeting that the missile has “considerable range” but not enough to hit the U.S. mainland.
The Pentagon announced that it will hasten the deployment of a missile defense system to the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam to strengthen regional protection against a possible attack.
North Korea’s military statement Thursday, from an unidentified spokesman from the General Bureau of the Korean People’s Army, said its troops had been authorized to counter U.S. “aggression” with “powerful practical military counteractions,” including nuclear weapons.
It said America’s “hostile policy” and “nuclear threat” against North Korea “will be smashed by the strong will of all the united service personnel and people and cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney has called on Russia and China, two countries he said have influence on North Korea, to use that influence to persuade the North to change course.
On Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich criticized a move by the North Korean parliament this week to declare the country in effect a nuclear weapons state.
“It’s categorically unacceptable to see such defiant neglect by Pyongyang of U.N. Security Council resolutions and fundamental regulations in the area of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, of South Korea, also had sharp words for the North.
“Nuclear threat is not a game,” Ban said Thursday in Madrid. “It’s very serious and I think they have gone too far in the rhetoric. I am concerned that if by any misjudgment, by any miscalculation of the situation, a crisis happens in the Korean Peninsula. This really would have very serious implications.”