North Korea moves missile as US seeks to tone down rhetoric
Japanese media reports weapon could be long-range missile capable of striking mainland US dismissed
Soldiers of the US army 23rd chemical battalion check their gas masks for a demonstration of their equipment during a ceremony at Camp Stanley in Uijeongbu, north of Seoul, South Korea, yesterday. Photograph: Lee Jin-man/AP
Pyongyang was also reported in the US media to be moving mid-range mobile ballistic missile launchers around the country as an unnamed spokesman for the North Korean army warned that its military has been cleared to wage an attack using “smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear [weapons]”.
South Korean defence minister Kim Kwan-jin said he didn’t know the reasons behind the North’s missile movement, adding that it “could be for testing or drills”. He dismissed reports in the Japanese media that the weapon could be a long-range missile capable of striking the mainland United States.
He described Pyongyang’s threats as rhetorical, saying that “the odds of a full-scale provocation are small”. If North Korea was preparing for a full-scale conflict, there would be signs of the country mobilising small army units but Seoul had not identified any such preparations, said the minister.
The movement of weapons in North Korea has come in response to what the country sees as aggressive acts by the US which sent B-2 and B-52 bombers with the capacity to carry nuclear weapons, and F-22 Stealth fighters from Japan, in test military missions in joint exercises with South Korea.
The US has engaged in annual military drills with Seoul to show Washington’s continued support for South Korea, an America ally since the Korean war in the early 1950s, in the event that the North is attacked.
North Korea has reacted to the joint military manoeuvres with increasingly bellicose rhetoric. Meanwhile, the US is to bolster its defences by sending a military defence system to its western Pacific Ocean territory of Guam over the coming weeks, ahead of a planned deployment in 2015.
“The moment of explosion is approaching fast,” the general staff of the North Korean People’s Army said in comments reported by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
“The US had better ponder over the prevailing grave situation.”
The Pentagon conceded yesterday that public pronouncements about US military deployments in response to North Korea’s increasingly threatening war cries may have contributed to tensions. The department of defence, therefore, was keen to tone down US rhetoric to diffuse tensions.
“We accused the North Koreans of amping things up; now we are worried we did the same thing,” one department official was quoted as saying to CNN.
The Obama administration’s national security council has said that it continues to monitor the situation closely.
‘Threats and provocation’
“Threats and provocative actions will not bring North Korea the security, international respect and economic development it seeks,” said the council’s spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden.
“We will continue to urge the North Korean leadership to heed President Obama’s call to choose the path of peace and come into compliance with its international obligations.”
The state department defended the defensive steps, including plans to bolster US west coast missile defences in Alaska, in light of North Korea’s threats, but said that a diplomatic solution was still possible.
“It was the ratcheting up of tensions on the DPRK [North Korean] side that has caused us to need to shore up our own defence posture – we have done that,” said a spokeswoman for the department.
She said the state department has consistently stated that “this does not need to get hotter” and that if North Korea complied with international obligations it will “begin to cool things down”.