April 8, 2013

Another N. Korean provocation coming soon?

North Korea could try to anger the international community again, an official warns.

Hyung-Jin Kim / The Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — A top South Korean national security official said Sunday that North Korea could be setting the stage for a missile test or another provocative act with its warning that it soon will be unable to guarantee diplomats' safety in Pyongyang.

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A woman reads messages on ribbons Sunday left by visitors to the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom, South Korea, expressing their wishes for the reunification of the two Koreas. North Korea last week suggested diplomats leave the country.

The Associated Press

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But he added that the North's clearest objective is to extract concessions from Washington and Seoul.

North Korea's warning last week followed weeks of war threats and other efforts to punish South Korea and the U.S. for ongoing joint military drills, and for their support of U.N. sanctions over Pyongyang's Feb. 12 nuclear test.

Tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang led South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff to announce Sunday that its chairman had put off a visit to Washington. The U.S. military said its top commander in South Korea had also canceled a trip to Washington.

The South Korean defense minister said Thursday that North Korea had moved a missile with "considerable range" to its east coast, possibly to conduct a test launch.

His description suggests that the missile could be the Musudan missile, capable of striking American bases in Guam with its estimated range of up to 2,490 miles.

Citing North Korea's suggestion that diplomats leave the country, South Korean President Park Geun-hye's national security director said Pyongyang may be planning a missile launch or another provocation around Wednesday, according to presidential spokeswoman Kim Haing.

During a meeting with other South Korean officials, the official, Kim Jang-Soo, also said the notice to diplomats and other recent North Korean actions are an attempt to stoke security concerns and to force South Korea and the U.S. to offer a dialogue.

Washington and Seoul want North Korea to resume the six-party nuclear talks -- which also include China, Russia and Japan -- that it abandoned in 2009.

DIPLOMATS STAY CALM

The roughly two dozen countries with embassies in North Korea had not yet announced whether they would evacuate their staffs.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague suggested that North Korea's comments about foreign diplomats are "consistent" with a regime that is using the prospect of an external threat to justify its militarization to its people.

"I haven't seen any immediate need to respond to that by moving our diplomats out of there," he told the BBC on Saturday. "We will keep this under close review with our allies, but we shouldn't respond and play to that rhetoric and that presentation of an external threat every time they come out with it."

Germany said its embassy in Pyongyang would stay open for at least the time being.

"The situation there is tense but calm," a German Foreign Office official, who declined to be named in line with department policy, said in an email. "The security and danger of the situation is constantly being evaluated. The different international embassies there are in close touch with each other."

Seoul and Washington, which lack diplomatic relations with the North, are taking the threats seriously, though they say they have seen no signs that Pyongyang is preparing for a large-scale attack.

U.S. MILITARY RESPONSE

The U.S. Defense Department has delayed an intercontinental ballistic missile test that had been planned for this week because of concerns the launch could be misinterpreted and exacerbate the Korean crisis, a senior defense official told The Associated Press.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel decided to delay the test at an Air Force base in California until sometime next month, the official said Saturday. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the test delay and requested anonymity.

(Continued on page 2)

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