North Korea may have the capacity to deliver missiles equipped with sarin nerve gas, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday, amid concern Pyongyang soon plans more missile or nuclear tests.
“It is possible that North Korea has the ability to hit [Japan] with a ballistic missile carrying sarin in its warhead,” Abe said in parliament.
While adding that Japan would never launch a pre-emptive strike against another country, Abe said the threat from Pyongyang requires a strengthening of the security alliance with the US.
The warning comes soon after a sarin gas attack in Syria killed dozens of civilians, prompting retaliation on a Syrian airbase by the US military using cruise missiles.
Japan also has it’s own horrific experience with sarin in 1995 when members of a doomsday cult released the chemical on subways, killing 12 people and leaving thousands more in need of medical help.
The South Korean Defense Ministry has estimated that Pyongyang started producing chemical weapons in the 1980s and has a stockpile of as much as 5,000 tons, including sarin.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have escalated over Pyongyang’s continued nuclear and missile testing program in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. North Korea is reportedly trying to build an intercontinental ballistic missile that could strike the United States.
The North has called the UN resolutions an infringement of its sovereign rights to self defense and pursuit of space exploration. The country is under extensive trade sanctions as a result of its nuclear program.
China is the North’s main trading partner and has indicated after talks with Washington that it will broaden sanctions on Pyongyang if it goes ahead with more nuclear tests, including cutting off oil supplies. Beijing has already started to block coal shipments from the North, one of Pyongyang’s major sources of revenue.
The US has also warned it may take unilateral action to end North Korea’s nuclear program and has sent an aircraft carrier and destroyers to waters off the Korean Peninsula in a show of force.
North Korea marks the 105th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il-sung on Saturday, which is the country’s biggest national day known as the “Day of the Sun.” Leaders have in the past used the date to carry out weapons tests.
North Korea has conducted several missile tests this year, the latest on April 5. In March, it did a simultaneous launch of four missiles for the first time, with some landing in the sea as close as 190 miles from Japan’s coast.
That was the nearest North Korean missiles have come to Japan’s mainland and the launch was later analyzed as being a simulation for an attack on a US military base in Japan. An outraged Tokyo called the maneuver “extremely dangerous.”
North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test a little over six months ago on September 9, 2016.