Seoul: A top South Korean national security official said on 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 US for ongoing joint military drills, and for their support of UN 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 today that its chairman had put off a visit 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 4,000 kilometers.
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 US 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 have not yet announced whether they will evacuate their staffs.
Indonesia`s foreign affairs ministry said it was considering a plan to evacuate its diplomats.
A statement released by the ministry yesterday 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.