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North Korea keeps up rhetoric

by HYUNG-JIN KIM Associated Press on April 04, 2013 10:40 AM

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has moved a missile with “considerable range” to its east coast, South Korea’s defense minister said today, but he added that there are no signs that Pyongyang is preparing for a full-scale conflict.

The report 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. It was the North’s latest war cry against America in recent weeks, with the added suggestion that it had improved its nuclear technology.

South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin 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 U.S.

Kim told lawmakers at a parliamentary committee meeting that the missile has “considerable range” but not enough to hit the U.S. mainland.

The range he described could refer to a mobile North Korean missile known as the Musudan, which has a range of 1,800 miles. That would make Japan and South Korea potential targets, but little is known about the missile’s accuracy.

The defense minister said he did not know the reasons behind the missile movement, saying it “could be for testing or drills.”

Experts say North Korea has not demonstrated that it has missiles capable of long range or accuracy. Some suspect that long-range missiles unveiled by Pyongyang at a parade last year were actually mockups.

“From what we know of its existing inventory, North Korea has short- and medium-range missiles that could complicate a situation on the Korean Peninsula (and perhaps reach Japan), but we have not seen any evidence that it has long-range missiles that could strike the continental U.S., Guam or Hawaii,” James Hardy, Asia Pacific editor of IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, wrote in a recent analysis.

Kim Kwan-jin said that if North Korea were preparing for a full-scale conflict, there would be signs including the mobilization of a number of units, including supply and rear troops, but South Korean military officials have found no such preparations.

“(North Korea’s recent threats) are rhetorical threats. I believe the odds of a full-scale provocation are small,” he said. But he added that there is still the possibility of North Korea mounting a localized, small-scale provocation against South Korea. He cited the 2010 shelling of a South Korean island, an attack that killed four people, as a possible example of such a provocation.

Pyongyang has been railing against joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises taking place in South Korea and has expressed anger over tightened U.N. sanctions for its February nuclear test. Many of the threats come in the middle of the night in Asia — daytime for the U.S. audience.

Analysts say the threats are probably efforts to provoke softer policies from South Korea, to win diplomatic talks with Washington and to solidify the image of young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

At times Pyongyang has gone beyond rhetoric. For a second day today, North Korean border authorities denied entry to South Koreans who manage jointly run factories in the North Korean city of Kaesong. A North Korean government-run committee threatened to pull out North Korean workers from Kaesong as well.

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