North Korea urges embassy evacuation, Russia says


South Korean protesters hold signs during a press conference denouncing the UN's new sanction against North Korea, and the annual joint military exercises near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. (Lee Jin-man/AP)
April 5, 2013

North Korea has advised foreign diplomats to consider evacuating their embassies in Pyongyang in light of increasing tensions in the region, Russian and British diplomats said Friday.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told reporters traveling with him in Uzbekistan on Friday afternoon that Moscow was seeking more details about the North Korean statement before making a decision about whether to evacuate.

The British Foreign Office said its embassy “received a communication from the North Korean government this morning saying that the North Korean government would be unable to guarantee the safety of embassies and international organizations in the country in the event of conflict from April 10.”

Lavrov said Russia was treating the statement from Pyongyang as a suggestion and not an order. Some observers in Moscow called Friday’s evacuation advice an obvious propaganda ploy. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said North Korea has made the same proposal to other nations with diplomatic missions in Pyongyang.

The development comes at the end of a week of bellicose threats by the North Koreans against South Korea and the United States. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing intelligence sources in South Korea, reported Friday that the North had moved intermediate-range rocket launchers to its eastern coast, putting Guam potentially within range of a strike, Reuters news service said.

Moscow is consulting with China, South Korea, the United States and Japan over the evacuation proposal, the Foreign Ministry said.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington that the United States plans to remain prudent in the face of “an unpredictable regime and an unpredictable situation.”

“This is just an escalating series of rhetorical statements, and the question is, to what end?” she said.

The United States, which does not have an embassy in North Korea, is represented in the country by Sweden.

While urging all sides to refrain from escalation, Russia — which shares a 10-mile border with North Korea — has been particularly concerned that North Korea not attempt a first-strike nuclear attack, triggering inevitable retaliation. Some Russian analysts have suggested that North Korea has no intention of actually going to war but warn that as rhetoric continues to escalate, a conflict could ignite accidentally.

“The situation is not developing in the direction we would like it to,” an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry official told the Itar-Tass news agency. “Now, in such a charged atmosphere, care for safety of our citizens comes to the fore.”

Valery Shnyakin, deputy head of the international affairs committee of Russia’s upper house of parliament, told the Interfax news agency that the North Korean recommendation should be taken seriously.

“As a rule, such statements are made amid unfolding military actions,” Shnyakin said, adding that even if Pyongyang is bluffing, such warnings deserve close attention.

“Russia, the U.S., China, Japan and South Korea should coordinate their efforts and act in a united front,” he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry statement said: “We are strongly convinced that prevention of military operations on the Korean Peninsula is an imperative. We consider the policy of fanning military tensions absolutely unacceptable, and we hope for the parties’ maximum restraint and composure.”

Chico Harlan in Seoul contributed to this report.

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