The U.S. 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 nervous 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 U.S. official told AFP. “We are committed to testing our ICBMs to ensure a safe, secure, effective nuclear arsenal.”
North Korea, incensed by U.N. sanctions and South Korea-U.S. 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 the specter it is preparing for a provocative launch.
Foreign diplomats in Pyongyang huddled at the weekend to discuss 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.
Earlier this week, the White House told North Korea to stop making threats after the isolated state dramatically upped its warlike rhetoric.
“North Korea should stop its provocative threats and instead concentrate on abiding by its international obligations,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
The North Korean military said on Wednesday that “the moment of explosion is approaching fast,” warning that war could break out “today or tomorrow.”
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