Kim could load warheads with nerve gas, says Japan
NORTH Korea may already have the capability to launch missiles carrying the nerve agent sarin, Japan has warned.
Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe yesterday said the security situation in the region was growing "increasingly severe", amid rising concern that Pyongyang was poised to throw down the gauntlet to Donald Trump with a nuclear test.
"We have just talked about Syria. There is a possibility that North Korea already has a capability to put sarin on warheads to strike the ground," Mr Abe told the Japanese parliament's diplomacy and defence committee.
International tensions have been mounting after analysts said Pyongyang was preparing a nuclear test site to mark the 105th anniversary of its first supreme leader Kim Il-sung's birth tomorrow.
North Korea has been known to test its military hardware on the anniversary before.
Meanwhile, a US navy strike group continued to steam to North Korean waters, a show of force by Mr Trump after he vowed that Washington would act alone to confront the reclusive state over its military buildup.
Mr Trump is concerned over leader Kim Jong-un's plans to develop a missile which could reach the continental United States, although he is thought to be more likely to target either South Korea or Japan with a strike.
North Korea is not a signatory to the international Chemical Weapons Convention. It is thought to have as many as 5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons, a stockpile which reportedly has 25 types of agents, including sarin.
Pyongyang has carried out five nuclear tests since 2006, including two last year.
A Washington-based think-tank named 38 North, which monitors North Korea, said satellite images on Wednesday showed activity around its Punggye-ri nuclear test site near the east coast that indicated it was ready for a new test.
However, South Korean officials said there was no increased activity to suggest that a test was imminent, while Japan said military action was unlikely.
A sixth nuclear test would be in breach of US sanctions and a direct challenge to President Trump, who has been warning Pyongyang that Washington's patience is at an end.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi attempted to ease tensions yesterday.
"Military force cannot resolve the issue," Mr Wang said, in comments which echoed those of Xi Jinping, the Chinese president.
He called for a peaceful resolution to the North Korean issue in a phone call with Mr Trump on Wednesday.
Mr Wang also warned that history would hold to account any party that instigated military action.
Meanwhile, influential Chinese newspaper the 'Global Times' said China would protect North Korea if it vowed to give up its nuclear weapons.
An editorial in the daily tabloid, which has close links to the ruling Communist Party, said: "As soon as North Korea complies with China's declared advice and suspends nuclear activities, China will actively work to protect the security of a denuclearised North Korean nation and regime."
China has, however, already taken a "big step" in putting pressure on North Korea by turning back shipments of coal from its neighbour, Mr Trump said. The move is expected to cause serious economic concerns for the impoverished nation. China is Pyongyang's biggest trading partner and coal exports were worth over €1bn to North Korea last year - one third of its export income.