A senior U.S. Defense official says the Pentagon has postponed a scheduled intercontinental ballistic missile test from a U.S. Air Force base in California, in order to not "exacerbate" military tensions with North Korea.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel decided to push back the long-planned "Minuteman 3" missile test until next month, out of concern the launch could create misunderstanding with Pyongyang and heighten the current crisis.
North Korea, angered by a new round of international sanctions following a recent nuclear test, has threatened to retaliate with attacks on the United States, South Korea and U.S. allies in the Asia Pacific region. Earlier this week, the North Korean military command announced it was "authorized" to attack the United States using "smaller, lighter and diversified" nuclear weapons.
The U.S. missile test postponement follows reports from South Korea that Pyongyang had moved two medium-range missiles to its east coast.
The White House said Friday it would not be surprised if North Korea staged a missile test similar to one late last year that brought a new round of international condemnation and economic sanctions.
Western analysts do not believe North Korea has the technical capablities required to mount a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, and do not believe any North Korean missiles could reach U.S. territory.
North Korea told foreign embassies and international organizations earlier this week that it could only guarantee their safety until April 10, in the event of open hostilities.
But foreign diplomats stationed in Pyongyang appeared to be staying at their embassies Saturday, despite the government's public suggestion they should leave for their own safety. Russia and Britain said Friday they had no plans to evacuate embassy staff.
North Korea will mark the birth centenary of its "founding father," Kim IL Sung, on April 15 with pomp and ceremony and displays of its military strength. Kim IL Sung led the communist country from 1948 until his death in 1994. His grandson, Kim Jong Un, currently holds power in Pyongyang.