US Delays Missile Test to Cool North Korea Tensions

US delays ballistic missile test to avoid stoking tensions with North Korea, as nuclear crisis brews on Korean peninsula.

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Soldiers of the US Army's 23rd Chemical Batta
Soldiers of the US Army's 23rd Chemical Batta
AFP file

The United States has delayed a ballistic missile test to avoid stoking tensions with North Korea, which has warned diplomats to consider evacuating from Pyongyang as a nuclear crisis brews on the Korean peninsula.

The Pentagon's disclosure that it would reschedule the intercontinental missile test due in California next week comes as the international community grows increasingly apprehensive that the situation could spiral out of control.

A U.S. defense official said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel postponed the Minuteman 3 test at Vandenberg Air Force Base until next month due to concerns it "might be misconstrued by some as suggesting that we were intending to exacerbate the current crisis with North Korea."

"We wanted to avoid that misperception or manipulation," the official told the AFP news agency. "We are committed to testing our ICBMs to ensure a safe, secure, effective nuclear arsenal."

North Korea, incensed by UN sanctions and South Korea-US military drills, has issued a series of apocalyptic threats of nuclear war in recent weeks.

It has also reportedly loaded two intermediate-range missiles on mobile launchers and hidden them in underground facilities near its east coast, raising concerns that it is preparing for a provocative launch.

Foreign diplomats in Pyongyang this weekend discussed the North's warning that it could not guarantee their safety after April 10 if a conflict broke out, although most appeared to be staying put.

Most of their governments have indicated that they have no immediate plans to withdraw personnel, and some suggested the advisory was a ruse to fuel growing global anxiety over the current crisis on the Korean peninsula.

"The security of the German embassy and its exposure to danger are continually being evaluated," the German foreign ministry said on Saturday. "For now, the embassy can continue working."

The United Nations has also said it had no plans to withdrawal staff from the area.  

“We believe they have taken this step as part of their country's rhetoric that the US poses a threat to them," a spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office told AFP.

A further meeting of EU ambassadors is due to take place on Monday in Brussels.

The North's mobilized missiles are reported to be untested Musudan models which are believed to have a range of around 1,860 miles (3,000 kilometers) that could theoretically be pushed to 2,485 miles with a light payload.

That would cover any target in South Korea and Japan, and possibly even reach American military bases located on the Pacific island of Guam.

The North has no proven inter-continental ballistic missile capability that would enable it to strike more distant American targets, and many experts say it is unlikely it can even mount a nuclear warhead on a mid-range missile.