By Jethro Mullen. Barbara Starr, and Joe Sterling, (CNN) — Is North Korea serious about military action? Or is it just testing the world?
A missile had been briefly raised to an upright firing position, stoking concerns that a launch is imminent, a U.S. official told CNN Thursday.
Later, another U.S. official said it’s been tucked back into its launcher.
This comes amid another round of daily tough talk from the North. A government agency is quoted by the state-run media as saying that “war can break out any moment.”
The latest move could signify that a much-feared launch is less imminent. It could also mean the government was testing the equipment.
The first U.S. official cautioned that the raising of the missile could have been just a trial run to ensure the equipment works or an effort to “mess” with the United States and the allies that are watching for a launch at any time.
So far, South Koreans — who’ve heard the cross-border bombast before — are taking the swagger in stride. Washington regards much of the North’s saber rattling as bluster.
But no one is taking any chances as the daily clamor of threats from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s government shows no sign of letting up.
The official declined to specify what type of intelligence led the United States to conclude the medium-range missile — a Musudan — was in a firing position.
The Musudan is an untested weapon that South Korea says has a range as far as 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles).
It could reach as far as Guam, a Western Pacific territory that is home to U.S. naval and air bases, and where the United States recently said it was placing missile defense systems.
The United States and South Korean militaries have been monitoring the movements of mobile ballistic missiles on the east coast of North Korea. Japan has deployed defense systems.
The mood in South Korea? ‘Very ordinary’
Life is generally continuing as normal in the region, however, despite the North’s barrage of recent threats, which have included warnings to foreigners on the peninsula about their safety in the event of conflict,
South Koreans, who have experienced decades of North Korean rage and posturing — and occasional localized attacks — have gone about their daily business without alarm.
“South Korea has been living under such threats from the past, and we are always prepared for it,” South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told CNN Wednesday. He called the current climate “a very ordinary situation.”
Tourist visits to the North appear not to have been significantly affected by the situation. China says that while some tour groups have canceled trips, the border between the two countries is still operating normally.
Foreign athletes are expected to compete in a marathon Sunday in Pyongyang, one of many sporting events organized by North Korean authorities to celebrate the 101st anniversary next week of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and the grandfather of leader Kim Jong Un.
“Our group just boarded a full plane for #Pyongyang,” Uri Tours, a U.S.-based travel agency that arranges trips to North Korea, tweeted late Wednesday.
South urges dialogue over industrial zone
The difficulties at the Kaesong industrial zone, a key symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, are among the few tangible signs of the tensions.
Pyongyang repeated a threat to permanently close the industrial zone, which it jointly operates with the South, accusing South Korean President Park Geun-hye of putting the manufacturing complex at risk.
The South Korean government, meanwhile, urged Pyongyang to work to resolve the situation through dialogue.
“Pyongyang should come to the bargaining table immediately,” Ryoo said.
North Korea has pulled its more than 50,000 workers out of the complex, which is on the northern side of the heavily fortified border that divides the two Koreas, and blocked personnel and supply trucks from entering it from South Korea.
In a statement reported Thursday by state-run media, the North Korean government said that what happens at the complex in the coming days “entirely depends on the attitude of the South Korean authorities.”
U.S. intelligence cites direct threats
The dangers posed by North Korea came up Thursday at a House Intelligence Committee hearing about worldwide threats.
James R. Clapper, director of U.S. national intelligence, said the United States believes the primary objective of Kim’s bellicose rhetoric is to “consolidate and affirm his power” and to show he is “in control of North Korea.”
Clapper said he doesn’t think Kim “has much of an endgame” other than to get recognition from the world as a nuclear power which “entitles him to negotiation, accommodation and, presumably, aid.”
But in a statement for the record before the committee, Clapper reiterated that the nation’s “nuclear weapons and missile programs pose a serious threat to the United States and to the security environment in East Asia.”
Since December, North Korea has put a satellite in orbit atop a long-range rocket; conducted a nuclear bomb test, its third since 2006; and claimed to be prepared for pre-emptive nuclear attacks on the United States, though most analysts believe it does not yet have that capability.
Its most recent nuclear test, in February, resulted in tougher U.N. sanctions, which infuriated Pyongyang, prompting it to sharpen its threats.
Annual military exercises in South Korea by U.S. and South Korean troops, which often upset the North, have added to the tensions, especially when the United States drew attention to shows of strength such as a practice mission by B-2 stealth bombers.
CNN’s K.J. Kwon, Tim Schwarz, Kyung Lah, Judy Kwon, Matt Smith and Elise Labott contributed to this report.