SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea's defense chief said on Thursday that North Korea had moved to its east coast a missile with a "considerable" range, but that it was not capable of reaching the United States. The disclosure came as the Communist North's military warned that it was ready to strike American military forces with "cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means."
North Korea has been issuing a blistering series of similar threats in recent weeks, citing as targets the American military installations in the Pacific islands of Hawaii and Guam, as well as the United States mainland. In its latest threat on Thursday, it did not name targets but said it was authorized to "take powerful, practical military counteractions" against the threats from B-2 bombers from the United States, B-52 bombers from Guam and F-22 Stealth jet fighters from United States bases in Japan that have recently run missions over the Korean Peninsula during joint military exercises with South Korea.
"The moment of explosion is approaching fast," the general staff of the North Korean People's Army said in a statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency. "The U.S. had better ponder over the prevailing grave situation."
Most analysts do not believe that North Korea has a missile powerful enough to deliver a nuclear warhead to the United States mainland or that it is reckless enough to strike the American military in the Pacific. Still, with the North's bellicose postures showing no signs of letting up, the United States announced Wednesday that it was speeding the deployment of an advanced missile defense system to Guam in the next few weeks, two years ahead of schedule, in what the Pentagon said was a "precautionary move" to protect American naval and air forces from the threat of a North Korean missile attack.
Testifying before a parliamentary hearing, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin of South Korea said the missile North Korea had moved to the east coast, possibly "for demonstration or for training," appeared not to be a KN-08, which analysts say is the closest thing North Korea has to an intercontinental ballistic missile, though its exact range is not known. The new missile was unveiled during a military parade in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, last April.
South Korean media quoted unnamed military sources as saying that the missile was a Musudan. Deployed around 2007, the Musudan is a ballistic missile with a range of more than 1,900 miles, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry. Guam is nearly 2,200 miles from North Korea.
Wee Yong-sub, an army colonel and deputy spokesman for the Defense Ministry, would say only that the South Korean and American military have been closely monitoring the movements of all North Korean missiles, including the Musudan.
"Chances are not high that they will lead to a full-scale war," said Mr. Kim, the defense minister, referring to the North Korean threats. "But given the nature of the North Korean regime, it's possible that they will launch a localized provocation."
On Thursday, for a second straight day, North Korea blocked South Koreans from crossing the border to enter a jointly operated industrial park, threatening the future of the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. It also warned that it would pull out more than 53,000 North Korean workers from the joint factory park, located in the North Korean city of Kaesong, if taunts from the South Korean news media continued.
After the North's threat to close the industrial complex last week, some South Korean media reports said the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, would be all talk but no action when it came to the park because he did not want to risk one of his most precious sources of hard currency.
After the United Nations Security Council imposed further sanctions against the North for its launching of a three-stage rocket in December and its third nuclear test in February, North Korea has appeared to harden its stance considerably. It said it would never negotiate away its nuclear weapons arsenal, but would instead expand it. On Tuesday, it declared that it would restart a nuclear reactor that gave it a small stockpile of plutonium and would readjust its uranium-enrichment plant for weapons efforts.
Photographs published Wednesday on the Web site 38 North, which follows North Korean developments, show new construction at the aging reactor, dating back several weeks. Once operational, the reactor can produce one bomb's worth of plutonium a year.
The Pentagon's decision to deploy a new missile defense system to Guam now is the latest in a series of steps intended to deter the North from either military action or new missile tests.
Earlier this week, the Defense Department announced that two of the Navy's Aegis-class missile defense warships were positioned in the Pacific to monitor North Korea. Installing the land-based missile system in Guam will free up the ships, which have radar and interceptor missiles, to be repositioned closer to the North Korean coast. That would give President Obama a wider range of options if the North Koreans fire their missiles in a test or at a target.
"We haven't made any decisions," a senior administration official said. "But we want as many options as possible."
David E. Sanger, Mark Landler and Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.