Updated at 9:55 a.m. Eastern
SEOUL, South Korea North Korea has moved a missile with "considerable range" to its east coast, South Korea's defense minister said Thursday, but he added that there are no signs that Pyongyang is preparing for a full-scale conflict.
The report came hours after North Korea's military warned that it has beenusing "smaller, lighter and diversified" nuclear weapons. It was the North's latest war cry against America in recent weeks, with the added suggestion that it had improved its nuclear technology.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin dismissed reports in Japanese media that the missile could be a KN-08, which is believed to be a long-range missile that -- if operable -- could hit the United States.
Kim told lawmakers at a parliamentary committee meeting that the missile has "considerable range" but not enough to hit the U.S. mainland.
The range he described could refer to a mobile North Korean missile known as the Musudan, or Taepodong X, which has a range of around 2,000 miles. That would make Japan and South Korea potential targets, but little is known about the missile's accuracy.
The defense minister said he did not know the reasons behind the missile movement, saying it "could be for testing or drills."
Experts say North Korea has not demonstrated that it has missiles capable of long range or accuracy. Some suspect that long-range missiles unveiled by Pyongyang at a parade last year were actually mockups.
"From what we know of its existing inventory, North Korea has short- and medium-range missiles that could complicate a situation on the Korean Peninsula (and perhaps reach Japan), but we have not seen any evidence that it has long-range missiles that could strike the continental US, Guam or Hawaii," James Hardy, Asia Pacific editor of IHS Jane's Defence Weekly, wrote in a recent analysis.
Kim Kwan-jin said that if North Korea were preparing for a full-scale conflict, there would be signs including the mobilization of a number of units, including supply and rear troops, but South Korean military officials have found no such preparations.
CBS News correspondent David Martin reported Wednesday that the Pentagon had announced it was sending a battery of air defense missiles to the Pacific island of Guam, which recently served as a base for American B-52 bombers that flew over South Korea as part of an annual military exercise. Next week, that exercise will include an amphibious landing and live fire drills by U.S. Marines, added Martin.
CBS News correspondent Holly Williams notes that, while there's no way of being certain whether North Korea's 30-year-old leader Kim Jong Un is genuinely willing to risk war with the United States, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has made it clear the U.S. is taking the North's provocations seriously.
"Some of the actions they've taken over the last few weeks present a real and clear danger and threat to the interests, certainly of our allies, starting with South Korea and Japan, and also the threats that the North Koreans have leveled directly at the United States regarding our base in Guam, threatened Hawaii, threatened the West Coast of the United States," said Hagel.
"(North Korea's recent threats) are rhetorical threats. I believe the odds of a full-scale provocation are small," South Korean defense chief Kim Kwan-jin said Thursday. But he added that there is still the possibility of North Korea mounting a localized, small-scale provocation against South Korea. He cited the 2010 shelling of a South Korean island, an attack that killed four people, as a possible example of such a provocation.
Pyongyang has been railing against joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises taking place in South Korea and has expressed anger over tightened U.N. sanctions for its February nuclear test. Many of the threats come in the middle of the night in Asia daytime for the U.S. audience.
Analysts say the threats are probably efforts to provoke softer policies from South Korea, to win diplomatic talks with Washington and to solidify the image of young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
At times Pyongyang has gone beyond rhetoric. For a second day Thursday, North Korean border authorities denied entry to South Koreans who manage jointly run factories in the North Korean city of Kaesong. A North Korean government-run committee threatened to pull out North Korean workers from Kaesong as well. About
North Korea was allowing South Korean managers at Kaesong to return home. About 220 of the approximately 800 South Koreans who spent Wednesday night at the complex were to cross the heavily fortified border into the South throughout Thursday, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry. The North has given the rest of the South Korean nationals until April 10 to leave.
On Tuesday, Pyongyanga plutonium reactor it had shut down in 2007. A U.S. research institute said Wednesday that satellite imagery shows that construction needed for the restart has already begun.