The U.S. wants to send a message that America can defend itself and allies without “getting too jumpy” about North Korea’s barrage of threats, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said.
While North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un “appears to be pushing the envelope,” the U.S. is seeking “a de-escalation of these tensions,” Rice said yesterday in an interview with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC.
“Our interest is in reminding him and those around him of the benefits of an alternative peaceful course,” Rice said, without “getting too jumpy when he wakes up in the morning and issues yet another provocative statement.”
North Korea yesterday told Russia and other countries to consider evacuating their embassies in Pyongyang, warning they can’t be protected if there’s a conflict. Kim’s regime has made an intensifying series of statements threatening confrontation and even nuclear war with the U.S. and South Korea.
Rice said the U.S. has been communicating with China, North Korea’s neighbor, biggest trading partner and closest ally about a collective international response. China and the U.S. worked together at the UN Security Council last month to craft a resolution that imposed tougher sanctions on North Korea after it conducted a nuclear test.
“Clearly, with the border that they have, with the economic relationship that they have, they can do more,” Rice said. China is “very much of the view that Kim Jong Un has gone too far and that this now is a situation that has the potential to directly threaten their interests in the region.”
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said today in China that North Korea’s statements are designed to raise regional tensions and called for Kim’s regime to return to six-nation denuclearization talks. Those negotiations with the U.S., China, Russia, Japan and South Korea haven’t met since 2008 and North Korea in January declared them over.
“This conduct is unacceptable and we condemn it,” Gillard said at the Boao Forum in the southern province of Hainan. “It’s now for each of us to use whatever pressure we can on North Korea to cut out this conduct.”
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin said yesterday North Korea may be preparing a test launch of a medium-range Musudan ballistic missile.
“We would not be surprised to see them take such an action,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters yesterday in Washington. “It would fit their current pattern of bellicose, unhelpful and unconstructive rhetoric and actions.”
North Korea was seen loading two mid-range missiles onto mobile launchers and hiding them in a facility near the east coast, Yonhap reported yesterday, citing unidentified South Korean military sources. Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok declined to confirm or comment on the report.
Yesterday’s warning to diplomats in Pyongyang joins “an escalating series of rhetorical statements, and the question is to what end,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters yesterday in Washington. “We all know that this is an unpredictable regime and an unpredictable situation.”
The U.S. has no indication that Sweden will change its diplomatic status in North Korea, Nuland said. Sweden represents U.S. interests in the country because the U.S. and North Korea don’t have formal diplomatic relations.
Nuland cited a release April 4 from the U.S. embassy in Seoul saying that “despite current political tensions with North Korea, there is no specific information to suggest there are imminent threats” to U.S. citizens or facilities in South Korea.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been reflected in financial markets. South Korea’s Kospi index fell 1.6 percent yesterday to 1,927.23 in Seoul, its steepest loss since Oct. 26. The won dropped 0.7 percent to 1,131.69 per dollar, the weakest since Sept. 6. The currency slumped 6 percent in the past three months, Asia’s second-worst performer.
The UN has said that for now its staff of 36 international employees and 21 locally hired workers will continue to carry out humanitarian relief in North Korea, one of the world’s most impoverished countries.
Russia is “alarmed” by the tensions on the Korean peninsula and is in “close contact” with the U.S., China, Japan and South Korea over the proposal to empty diplomatic missions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, according to a statement on the ministry’s website. Russia also sought clarification from the government in Pyongyang, he said.
“There rests an unspoken need for more direct engagement by Russia and China, maybe in the form of a summit to deal with an unpredictable young leader,” George Lopez, a former UN sanctions investigator on North Korea, said, referring to Kim in an e-mail.
The crisis is escalating after the communist nation warned this week that “the moment of explosion is approaching soon” and said it’s poised to conduct a “smaller, lighter and diversified” nuclear attack.
“In recent weeks, the North Korean government has raised tensions on the Korean peninsula and the wider region through a series of public statements and other provocations,” the British Foreign Office said. “We condemn this behavior and urge the North Korean government to work constructively with the international community, including over the presence of foreign embassies.”
In Germany, the North Korean ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin yesterday and told that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is extremely concerned by the escalation on the Korean peninsula, which Germany finds unacceptable, the ministry said in a statement.
The matter will be on the agenda at a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight nations scheduled in London next week with the goal of reaching a “resolute” common reaction to North Korea’s “irresponsible threats,” the ministry said.