North Korea tension prompts US missile test delay

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, March 2013 North Korea has made a series of direct threats against the US and South Korea

The US has delayed an intercontinental ballistic missile test scheduled for next week, defence officials say.

The Minuteman 3 test was put off over concerns it could be misinterpreted by North Korea, amid fears of a conflict.

It could be postponed until May, in what correspondents say will be portrayed by Pyongyang as a victory.

North Korea has issued a series of unusually strong threats since it was sanctioned by the UN in March for carrying out a third nuclear test.

It has threatened nuclear strikes on the US, formally declared war on the South, and pledged to reopen a nuclear reactor in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

A Pentagon official said the US wanted to "avoid any misperception or miscalculation" that might result from the test.

US and South Korean officials have sought to play down fears of a conflict on the Korean peninsula in recent days.

The BBC's John Sudworth in Seoul says Pyongyang will likely use the delay to its advantage in propaganda, and say the US has been forced to climb down in the face of resilience from the North Korean army.

The North Korean media are full of images of military preparedness, he adds, intended to rally people behind the leadership.

On Friday, North Korea warned it would not be able to guarantee the safety of embassy staff in the event of a war, but no foreign governments have announced plans to evacuate their embassies.

Guam threat
South Korean armoured vehicles in a military drill in Hwacheon (1 April 2013) North Korea has been angered by the current US-South Korean drills

Many of North Korea's angry statements have cited annual military exercises between US and South Korean forces as provocation.

The US flew nuclear-capable B2 and B52 bombers over the South as part of the drill, and has since deployed warships with missile defence systems to the region.

This week, the North reportedly moved at least one missile to its east coast. It has threatened to strike the Pacific island of Guam, where the US has a military base.

North Korea's missiles have the capability to carry nuclear warheads, but the country is not yet thought to have developed such warheads.

Many observers say that North Korea's belligerent rhetoric appears intended for a domestic audience and at shoring up the position of Kim Jong-un, who came to power after his father's death in December 2011.

However, they also say that knowledge of the North's political calculations risk is limited, and the risk of a major escalation has increased amid the heightened tension of recent weeks.

Our correspondent adds that Pyongyang sees itself as vulnerable, having seen the upheaval in countries like Syria and Iraq, and is using the threat of nuclear weapons to protect itself.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    The panic button should never be pressed. Instead cool nerves with a cooling off period is the best policy. There is far too much tension which could provoke an irretrievable action. Being in a high state of preparedness could be done without too much hullabaloo.Yes this is not a normal situation but a stalemate where a super-power is being confronted by a trouble-some regime out of its depth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    We've become used to N Korean 'sabre-rattling' over the years, but under Kim Jong Il it was often just words. The son seems far more willing to back up his threats with action.
    That makes him a far more dangerous individual in my view.
    He's not a naughty fat kid, as some portray him. He's head of a paranoid, totalitarian, nuclear-capable regime.
    Now is a time for calmness & cool heads.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    The antics of North Korea are just the same as they have been with previous leaders.This back and forth approach has been going on since 1950's. It surely has got to get a conclusion sooner rather than later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    The Chinese has a saying throwing valuebla eggs to defeat a rock is not a way of winning. North Korea has rather less to lose even if they lost a war but America will have much to lose. In recent years USA picked on countries that lacks the ability to strike back. A single nuclear bomb from NK aimed at a US base or a city in South Korea or Japan will signal the end of US as a global superpower.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    It is time that North Korea is told in no uncertain terms that any aid must be dependant on the most stringent of conditions and if they are not met in full then there will not be any negotiations. The world cannot constantly be held to ransom in this way and the Chinese have to be completely on board with this. No one wants war but we cannot continue like this


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