SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — 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 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.
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.
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