North Korean missiles may be capable of delivering sarin nerve gas, says Japan’s prime minister amid concerns that the hermit state may respond to the US naval buildup in the region ahead of the 105th birthday of its late ruler Kim Il-sung.
Speaking to lawmakers, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said there is possibility that North Korea already has the capacity to equip missile warheads with sarin projectiles, according to Nikkei Asia Review.
He maintained that Pyongyang is rapidly improving its nuclear and missile technology, urging the international community “to stay united and make a drastic change in the way North Korea moves towards a dangerous road.” Abe said the Japanese Self-Defense Force has no emergency plan in that regard, but stressed “the deterrent of the US-Japan alliance.”
Later in the day, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said North Korea possesses “large stockpiles” of chemical weapons as well as industrial facilities to produce them, according to TASS.
The alarming news comes amid a massive US military build-up near the Korean Peninsula, the largest for several years. Previously, US President Donald Trump threatened to take unilateral action against Pyongyang with or without support from regional powers, ordering the aircraft carrier group ‘USS Carl Vinson’ to execute a show of force near North Korean waters.
This week, the White House issued another bellicose statement, saying US military assets in the region are not limited to the surface fleet. During a telephone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday, Trump told Xi he should inform North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that the US “doesn’t just have aircraft carriers, but also nuclear submarines,”according to Wall Street Journal.
“You cannot allow a country like that to have nuclear power, nuclear weapons,” Trump said. “That’s mass destruction. He doesn’t have the delivery systems yet, but he will.”
In turn, North Korea warned on Tuesday it would retaliate to any sign of American aggression with any means available.
“If the US dares opt for a military action, crying out for ‘pre-emptive attack’, [Pyongyang] is ready to react. We will hold the US wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions,”said North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, as cited by AP.
READ MORE: ‘Catastrophic consequences’: N. Korea vows to retaliate against deployment of US strike group
North Korea is currently preparing for its biggest national holiday, the 105th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il-sung, grandfather of the current leader, dubbed the ‘Day of the Sun’.
Pyongyang officials have already told foreign journalists on Tuesday that a “big and important event” is expected to take place, according to Reuters. Last April, North Korea test-fired its Musudan intermediate-range missile on the occasion of Kim Il-sung’s 104th birthday.
In the meantime, South Korea urged calm and called upon the US to consult Seoul if it was considering military action against the North. “Under the South Korea-US alliance, any important measure on the North is taken under consultation with the South Korea government and it will continue in the future,” Yun told a parliamentary hearing, as cited by Reuters.
Notably, South Korean officials said on Thursday there were no new signs indicating that North Korea is preparing a nuclear test was more likely, although they also said the North has maintained a state of readiness to conduct such a test at any time, Reuters reported.
South Korea has always been wary of any coercive actions against its reclusive neighbor, even though its 600,000-strong armed forces are believed to be among the most capable and well-equipped militaries in the region. Seoul, a densely-populated metropolis of 10 million people, lies within reach of North Korean long-range artillery and rockets amassed along the demilitarized zone (DMZ), and any unprovoked aggression against Pyongyang could set off a catastrophic retaliation causing multiple civilian casualties.
Russia and China, two world powers bordering North Korea, also advocated peaceful solution to the crisis. On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow is increasingly concerned about mounting tensions on the Korean Peninsula, urging Washington to get to the table and refrain from coercive measures.
The Global Times, a Chinese state-run newspaper, wrote in an editorial that Beijing is ready to give Pyongyang security guarantees if it “complies with China’s declared advice and suspends nuclear activities.” US threats to Pyongyang are “more credible given its just-launched missile attack at an airbase in Syria,” the paper warned.”The Korean Peninsula has never been so close to a military clash since the North conducted its first nuclear test in 2006.”