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 also has expressed anger over tightened U.N. sanctions for its February nuclear test.
Analysts say the ominous warnings in recent weeks probably are 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.
The report of the movement of the missile came hours after North Korea’s military warned that it has been authorized to attack the U.S. using “smaller, lighter and diversified” nuclear weapons. The reference to smaller weapons could be a claim that North Korea has improved its nuclear technology, or a bluff.
The North is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to miniaturize nuclear bombs enough to mount them on long-range missiles. Nor has it demonstrated that those missiles, if it has them at all, are accurate. It also could be years before the country completes the laborious process of creating enough weaponized fuel to back up its nuclear threats.