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defense chief-NK missile

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, April 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said Thursday that North Korea has moved an intermediate-range missile to its east coast for an imminent test firing or military drill, but it does not seem to be aimed at striking the U.S. mainland.

In a parliamentary defense committee meeting, Kim refuted media reports that Pyongyang has moved a KN-08 missile, which is believed to have a range of 10,000 kilometers, into position to strike the U.S.

Without specifying the type of missile, Kim said it is believed to be able to reach a "considerable distance," though it is not able to strike the U.S. mainland.

"The missile does not seem to be aimed at the U.S. mainland," Kim told lawmakers. "It could be aimed at test firing or military drills."

Although there is slim chance that Pyongyang's harsh rhetoric could lead to a full-scale war, Kim said the North could launch other forms of provocations, including border clashes and cyber attacks.

"Our military has upgraded several systems and carried out drills under upgraded military readiness status," Kim said.

According to intelligence analysis by South Korean and U.S. forces, it is believed to be a Musudan missile, which is estimated to have a range of 3,000-4,000 km, putting the U.S. base in Guam within striking.

In positioning the missile on its east coast, the North has prompted the U.S. to move its advanced missile defense system to its base on the Pacific Ocean island of Guam along with radar systems.

It has yet to be confirmed whether the missile is carrying a warhead, but sources forecast that Pyongyang is likely to fire it around the middle of April, when North Koreans celebrate the birthday of the North's founder, Kim Il-sung.

The North has yet to conduct a test firing of a Musudan missile. The international community first became aware that the communist country owned this type of missile in October 2010 when the North revealed it during a military parade in Pyongyang.

During the meeting, Kim said his military is nearing a decision to buy long-range air-to-surface missiles by Germany's Taurus System to arm the Air Force's fighter jets, giving them the capability to strike all parts of North Korea.

Seoul had considered buying Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) by Lockheed Martin, but the U.S. government has not approved sales of the 370-km range air-to-surface missile to South Korea, Kim said, making the Taurus System the only bidder in the project.

"In times of crisis, South Korea, U.S., Japan jointly operate their combat forces," Kim said. "It is true that we are short of current things (missiles), and we will pick Taurus to deploy its missiles."

The state-run Defense Acquisition and Procurement Agency is currently in consultation with the German company over price conditions, officials said, noting no decision has been confirmed yet.

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