Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday said North Korea may already possess the ability to attack with missiles tipped with warheads containing the deadly chemical agent sarin.
Abe's remark in a parliamentary committee comes as Japan's ally the United States has deployed an aircraft carrier and accompanying battle ships near the Korean Peninsula in a show of force amid signs North Korea may conduct another nuclear test.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has said all options, including military action, are "on the table" to prevent further provocation by Pyongyang.
It also follows Japan's support for what its officials have described as Washington's "resolve to never tolerate the proliferation and use of chemical weapons" over a U.S. missile strike in Syria last week in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Abe has drawn a link between the developments in Syria and North Korea, saying last week Japan "highly appreciates" the Trump administration's commitment to maintaining global order at a time when "the threat from weapons of mass destruction is also growing more serious in East Asia."
The production, stockpiling, and use of sarin, a potent nerve agent, have been banned by a convention on chemical weapons that came into force in 1997. The substance was used by a Japanese religious cult in a deadly attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.