North Korea has moved a missile with "considerable range" to its east coast, but the weapon is incapable of reaching the United States, South Korea's defense minister said today.
Kim Kwan-Jin denied earlier reports by Japanese media that it could be a KN-08, believed to be a long-range missile that could potentially hit the U.S. mainland. That missile was showcased at a parade last year in Pyongyang but it is unclear whether officials actually have the capacity to launch it.
Kim told parliamentary lawmakers in Seoul that the reasons for the latest movement are unclear but "could be for testing or drills."
Experts believe it could be a medium-range missile called Musudan, known to carry a range of 1,800 miles.
Some experts in Seoul say North Korea might be considering a test-launch April 15, the birth date of the country's founder and leader Kim Jong Un's grandfather.
Minister Kim added that North Korean military forces have not shown signs of preparing for a full-scale conflict. "[North Korea's recent threats] are rhetorical threats. I believe the odds of a full-scale provocation are small," he said.
But there are still possibilities of North Korea's initiating a small-scale provocation against South Korea, for example, similar to an exchange of fire in 2010 on the South's Yeonpyong Island.
A spokesman for the North Korean People's Army released a statement earlier today saying the military has been "authorized to attack the American imperialists using smaller, lighter, and diversified" nuclear weapons. "We are ready any day, could be even today or tomorrow," and "the moment of explosion is approaching fast," it said.
Many North Korea analysts believe the series of statements and declarations are for their internal use, a way for different organizations and institutions within the North Korean regime to demonstrate loyalty.
"Some of the statements or the content of the statements are clearly disconnected from reality," Daniel Pinkston of International Crisis Group said.
"It is targeted at the domestic audience. The average North Korean has no capacity to really assess the credibility of the statements," he said. "And almost all people in North Korea are going to look at that and their assessment is going to be, 'Wow, we are really powerful, we have a strong leadership.' It's very impressive to them."
North Korean authorities also maintained its entry ban on South Korean workers and cargo lined up to enter the inter-Korean Gaesong Industrial Park for the second day. South Korea's Unification Ministry urged the North to lift the passage restrictions and normalize business production. At the moment, commuters are only allowed to leave the North, but not enter.
Seoul's financial markets have also taken a hit. The stock market plunged more than 2 percent at one point, ending down 1.2 percent, the biggest daily fall this year. South Korean currency -- the won -- weakened 0.5 percent against the U.S. dollar, the lowest since September.