Seoul: NKorea may be preparing to test missile

A South Korean army soldier stands guard at Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom A top South Korean official said the North may be setting the stage for a missile test or another provocative act.

A South Korean army soldier stands guard at Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom A top South Korean official said the North may be setting the stage for a missile test or another provocative act.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A top South Korean national security official said Sunday that North Korea may 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. 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. Many nations are deciding what to do about the notice, which said their diplomats’ safety in Pyongyang cannot be guaranteed beginning this Wednesday.

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 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 a presidential spokeswoman.

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.

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.”

Indonesia’s foreign affairs ministry said it was considering a plan to evacuate its diplomats. A statement released by the ministry on Saturday said that its embassy in Pyongyang has been preparing a contingency plan to anticipate the worst-case scenario, and that the Indonesian foreign minister is communicating with the staff there to monitor the situation.

India also said it was monitoring events. “We have been informed about it,” said Syed Akbaruddin, spokesman for India’s external affairs ministry. “We are in constant touch with our embassy and are monitoring the situation. We will carefully consider all aspects and decide well in time.”

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.

Kim Jang-soo said the North would face “severalfold damages” for any hostilities. Since 2010, when attacks Seoul blames on North Korea killed 50 people, South Korea has vowed to aggressively respond to any future attack.

South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Jung Seung-jo had planned to meet with his U.S. counterpart, Gen. Martin Dempsey, in Washington on April 16 for regular talks. But tensions on the Korean Peninsula are so high that Jung cannot take a long trip away from South Korea, so the meeting will be rescheduled, a South Korean Joint Chiefs officer said Sunday. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office policy.

The top U.S. military commander in South Korea, Gen. James Thurman, will not make a planned trip to Washington this week to testify before Congress because of tensions with North Korea. In an email Sunday to The Associated Press, Army Col. Amy Hannah said Thurman would remain in Seoul as “a prudent measure.” He was scheduled to testify on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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