U.S. and South Korean forces remain on heightened alert for a North Korean missile test that officials say could take place at any time.
Seoul's defense ministry on Thursday said it is at a "full readiness posture" as it monitors the North for possible launches. A spokesperson said the South believes the test could take place on or before the Monday birthday of North Korea's late founding leader, Kim Il Sung.
But the defense ministry refused to comment on a report by Japan's Kyodo news agency, which on Thursday quoted an unnamed Tokyo defense official as saying Pyongyang has placed a missile launcher in a raised position in apparent preparation for a test.
Joint U.S.-South Korean forces have already raised their alert level to "WatchCon 2," indicating a vital threat is present. At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Pyongyang against making more threats.
At the Pentagon, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Pyongyang against making more threats. "North Korea has been, with its bellicose rhetoric, with its action, has been skating very close to a dangerous line. Their actions and words have not helped defuse a combustible situation,'' Hagel said.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se told lawmakers Wednesday it is "highly likely" North Korea will test one of its new missiles "at any time."
"We believe that the missile will be a Musudan, which is a new form of mid-range missile with a range of 3,500 kilometers. How far it will travel depends on North Korea's will," Byung-Se said.
Lines of Communication
Meanwhile, diplomats are scrambling to maintain possible lines of communication with Pyongyang and ease tensions.
The European Union Wednesday told North Korea it would not pull its diplomats despite North Korea's warning that it could not guarantee their safety after April 10.
During talks in London with U.S. Secretory of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sought to present a united front.
"On North Korea, we have no differences with the United States. You should not scare anyone with military maneuvers. And then there's a chance everything can calm down," Lavrov said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei also urged restraint.
"Under present circumstances, all sides should stay calm and restrained, not provoke each other, strive to alleviate the tension, bear in mind the regional peace and stability, work towards the resumption of the six-party talks, strengthen contact and dialogue, strive for denuclearization to achieve a long-term security and stability in Northeast Asia," Lei said.
North Korea is reported to be in the final stages of preparing for a mid-range Musudan missile test. The previously untested missile could potentially reach South Korea, Japan, or the U.S. territory of Guam. Unconfirmed reports also suggest Pyongyang is preparing to test other missiles simultaneously.
Some analysts expect the test to occur sometime around the Monday birthday of Pyongyang's founding leader, Kim Il Sung.
The commander of the U.S. forces in the Pacific confirmed North Korea has moved a Musudan to its east coast in apparent preparation for a launch. Testifying Tuesday at a U.S. Senate hearing, Admiral Samuel Locklear insisted that any North Korean missile could be intercepted if it poses a direct threat to the U.S. or its allies.
Warnings to Foreigners
North Korea state television has been urging foreigners to leave South Korea, warning they could be caught up in an all-out military conflict or a "nuclear war."
South Korea Unification Ministry spokesperson Kim Hyung-suk on Wednesday played down the threat to foreigners.
"Various actions from the North are very likely to be psychological, creating anxiety. I will say that we should not be paying too much attention or feeling anxious," Hyung-suk said.
North Korea has threatened to attack the South, the United States and U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region in retaliation for the latest economic sanctions imposed on Pyongyang by the U.N. Security Council. Those sanctions have been aimed at punishing Pyongyang for carrying out nuclear and missile tests in defiance of Security Council resolutions.