Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned Thursday that North Korea may be capable of firing a missile loaded with sarin nerve gas toward Japan, as international concern mounted that a missile or nuclear test by the authoritarian state could be imminent. "There is a possibility that North Korea is already capable of shooting missiles with sarin as warheads," Abe told a parliamentary panel when asked about Japan's readiness at a time of increased regional tension. A US navy aircraft carrier is heading toward the Korean Peninsula as Pyongyang prepares for the 105th anniversary of the birth of founder Kim Il Sung this weekend. The Guardian reports there is speculation the country could stage a missile test around the birthday celebration or on April 25, which marks the 85th anniversary of the Korean People's Army.
North Korea has been producing chemical weapons since the 1980s and is now estimated to have as many as 5,000 tons, according to a South Korean defense white paper. Its stockpile reportedly has 25 types of agents, including sarin, reports the AP. Japan, under its postwar constitution, has limited the role of its military to self-defense only and relied on the US for offensive and nuclear capability. But recently, Abe's ruling party has proposed that Japan should bolster its missile defense, including upgrading the capability to shoot down an enemy missile. China weighed in on the overall situation Thursday, per Reuters, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying, "Military force cannot resolve the issue. ... Amid tensions we will also find a kind of opportunity to return to talks." (Read more North Korea stories.)