SEOUL // South Korea's defence minister said yesterday that North Korea had moved a missile with "considerable range" to its east coast, but it was not capable of reaching the United States.
Kim Kwan-jin dismissed reports in the Japanese and South Korean media that the missile could be a KN-08, which is believed to be a long-range missile that, if operable, could hit the US.
His comments came after the US department of defence said it was deploying a missile-defence shield to the Pacific as North Korea renewed its threat of a nuclear attack on the US using "smaller, lighter and diversified" weapons.
Mr Kim told MPs that the missile's range was considerable but not enough to reach the US mainland. He said he did not know the reasons behind the missile movement, saying it "could be for testing or drills".
Experts said North Korea had not demonstrated that it has missiles capable of long range or accuracy. Some suspect that long-range missiles unveiled by Pyongyang during a parade last year were only mock-ups.
The almost-daily aggressive moves by North Korea are seen as a test of the reclusive country's young new leader, Kim Jong-un, and concerns over whether he will follow the talk with action have rattled the region.
The US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, called North Korea's rhetoric a "real and clear danger" and a threat to the US and its Asia-Pacific allies.
He said the US was doing all it could to defuse the situation, which has included threats against the US military base in Guam in the Pacific, Hawaii and the US west coast.
The Pentagon said it would deploy a high-altitude missile defence system to Guam, a US territory, to strengthen the Asia-Pacific region's protections against a possible attack.
The Pentagon already has sent bombers, stealth fighters and ships to the region.
Tensions have escalated in recent weeks as the US and South Korea hold regular joint military drills. North Korea also is angry about a new round of UN sanctions over the country's latest nuclear test.
The communist country has vowed to increase production of nuclear weapons materials. It has already begun construction at a closed plutonium reactor it vows to restart, and it could be back in operation sooner than expected, a US research institute said.
North Korea has already conducted three underground nuclear tests. Plans to restart the reactor and increase production of atomic material underscore fears about its progress in developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could target the US but it is still believed to be years away from achieving that.
The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies has analysed recent commercial satellite imagery of the Nyongbyon nuclear facility, where the reactor was shut down in 2007 under the terms of a disarmament agreement. A cooling tower for the reactor was destroyed in 2008.
The analysis published on Wednesday on the institute's website, 38 North, said that rebuilding the tower would take six months, but a photo taken on March 27 showed building work might have started on an alternative cooling system that could take just weeks.