North Korea stepped up threats against the U.S., authorizing its military to conduct a potential “smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike” while again restricting South Korean access to a joint industrial zone.
The North recently transported a missile to its eastern coast, possibly for training and test-firing, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin told lawmakers today in Seoul. While it has “considerable” range, the missile isn’t capable of hitting the continental U.S., Kim said.
The missile movement and the statement by the North Korean army today marked a further escalation over the regime’s nuclear weapons program and United Nations sanctions against it. The U.S. and South Korea say the rhetoric hasn’t been accompanied by actions consistent with preparations for war.
Today’s warning is “a diplomatic statement to the U.S., not a threat of a military attack,” said Kim Yeon Su, a professor at the Korea National Defense University in Seoul. “By sending out a reminder of the nuclear weapons law passed April 1, the North is saying it will only return to the negotiating table when it is accepted as a nuclear power.”
North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly, ratified a new law on April 1 that boosts nuclear weapons development “for self-defense.”
Kim Jong Un’s regime, which hasn’t demonstrated it is capable of putting a nuclear device on a ballistic missile, didn’t specify what kind of weapon could be used in a potential strike, according to today’s statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. The projectile moved today isn’t a mobile KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile, Defense Minister Kim said.
South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index fell 1.2 percent to close at 1,959.45 today, its biggest decline since Nov. 15. The won weakened 0.5 percent to 1,123.71 per dollar, while and the cost of protecting sovereign bonds against default climbed to the highest since September.
South Korea has detected no unusual North Korean troop movements, according to a Defense Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with ministry policy. In response to recent North Korean threats, the Pentagon yesterday said it will deploy a missile defense system to Guam in the coming weeks as a “precautionary move.’
North Korea cited an ‘‘ever-escalating U.S. hostile policy,’’ including the use of long-range bombers during U.S.- South Korea drills, as justifying its actions. The threat is another provocative statement that will only isolate North Korea further, White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in an e-mailed statement.
South Korea doesn’t see the threats as signs of a full-scale war, Defense Minister Kim said. North Korea may carry out ‘‘localized provocations’’ near the western sea border for domestic, political purposes, he said.
North Korea for the second day restricted entry for South Koreans to the special economic zone in Gaeseong, allowing only those already staying in the park to leave. More than 220 South Koreans are scheduled to leave Gaeseong today, according to the Unification Ministry.
The North yesterday notified South Korean businesses to leave Gaeseong by April 10, Yoo Dong Ok, a spokesman for Gaeseong companies said by phone today. The South’s Unification Ministry called that claim a misinterpretation of North Korea’s regular request for the South to submit its plan for cross-border movements.
The industrial complex is ‘‘on the verge of shutdown” due to tensions escalated by the U.S. and South Korea, the Committee for Peaceful Reunification of Korea, a state-run propaganda body, said in a statement carried by KCNA.
The North has still not officially commented on limiting South Korean access to Gaeseong since threatening to close the complex on March 30, in response to recent flights over the Korean peninsula by U.S. stealth bombers.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in Washington yesterday that Kim’s regime presents a “real and clear danger and threat to the interests, certainly of our allies” including South Korea and Japan, as well as the U.S.
Hagel made his remarks to give Kim, the untested North Korean leader, a face-saving opportunity to lower the temperature of the dispute, according to three U.S. officials involved in Korea policy who spoke on condition of anonymity because they have access to classified intelligence.
Analysts have said it’s unclear whether North Korea, which has conducted three underground nuclear tests, has been able to reduce the size of a device enough to deploy it as a missile warhead.
North Korea’s reactor at Yongbyon, about 97 kilometers (60 miles) north of Pyongyang, may have provided fissile material for six to eight nuclear bombs before it was shut down and disabled six years ago as part of a denuclearization deal with the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia and Japan that later fell apart.
Kim’s regime said this week it will restart all facilities at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, including a reactor that generates plutonium in spent fuel rods.
Commercial satellite photos show that construction activity started at the site of the 5-megawatt Yongbyon reactor sometime in early February to late March, the 38 North website, affiliated with the U.S.-Korea Institute at the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, reported yesterday.