Foreign Missions Not Advising Citizens to Leave Korea Despite Pyongyang's Latest Threats

By Patrick Goodenough | April 9, 2013 | 9:19 PM EDT

Japanese military personnel prepare to deploy a Patriot PAC-3 missile interceptor at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo early on Tuesday, April 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

( – If North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hoped his latest threat Tuesday would trigger an exodus of foreigners from South Korea, the U.S. and other governments did not play along, reporting no change in advice to their citizens there.

“Our analysis remains the same as it was last week,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told a press briefing. “We’re not discouraging U.S. citizens from traveling to South Korea or encouraging them to take any special travel precautions.”

He pointed to a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy last Thursday, which said 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 the South.

“So the U.S. Embassy has not changed its security posture,” Ventrell said. “We have not recommended that U.S. citizens who reside in or plan to visit the Republic of Korea take special security precautions at this time.”

Despite nuclear threats from the North and indications that it may carry out another missile launch at any time other foreign embassies in Seoul, too, have not warned against traveling to or staying in South Korea, although they advise citizens to take sensible precautions and to keep abreast of developments.

The Australian Embassy, for example, is advising its citizens to follow the lowest of four possible levels of guidance – “exercise normal safety precautions.” (Its other levels are “exercise a high degree of caution,” “reconsider your need to travel” and “do not travel.”)

The British Foreign Office’s unchanged advice from April 5 states that it “assess[es] that there is currently no immediate increased risk or danger to those living in or travelling to South Korea as a result of these [North Korean rhetorical] statements.” About 100,000 Britons visit South Korea each year.

Britain, which has an embassy in North Korea, also has “no immediate plans to withdraw” from Pyongyang, it said.

The German Embassy said military action by North Korea cannot be ruled out, but that it does not yet see a concrete threat to German nationals.

The French Embassy said the North Korean threats have not yet necessitated any special security arrangements, but recommended that French citizens keep themselves informed of the situation and advise the mission of their presence.

Similar advice came from the Italian Embassy, although it added that it was prudent to avoid unnecessary travel to the area of the South-North border and demilitarized zone.

A South Korean presidency spokeswoman said Pyongyang’s attempt to incite panic among foreigners in the country would fail.

“We understand that not only South Koreans, but also foreigners residing here, remain unfazed at all, as they have great trust and confidence in our military and the Republic of Korea,” the semi-official Yonhap news agency quoted Kim Haing as saying.

Earlier Tuesday a North Korean regime body known as the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee urged all foreign tourists, companies and organizations to “work out measures for evacuation,” as the situation on the Korean peninsula was “inching close to a thermonuclear war.”

“In the event of war, we don’t want foreigners living in South Korea to get hurt,” it said.

The warning – the latest in a string of threats and belligerent statements and actions in recent weeks – was seen as an attempt to further heighten tensions and deal a blow to the economy of South Korea and to the prestige of its conservative government, which Pyongyang reviles as a “gang of traitors” loyal to the U.S. rather than to Koreans.

Like many of the previous threats, this one prompted headlines around the world calling it more “bluster” from the Kim Jong-un regime. Even the Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party organ, said in an editorial Tuesday that North Korea’s belligerent rhetoric “is becoming meaningless.”

Ventrell demurred when asked during the briefing whether the U.S. government viewed it as “bluster” or a threat that was not credible, although he did note that “these sort of provocative statements have come out on a routine basis.”

(Ventrell was comfortable using the word “bluster” a few minutes later, to describe Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s latest declaration that “Iran has gone nuclear” and that the West will not be able to do anything about it.)

In this Sunday, April 15, 2012 file photo, a North Korean vehicle carries a missile during a mass military parade in Pyongyang. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, File)

Launch imminent?

South Korean officials say the North is apparently making final preparations for a medium-range ballistic missile launch, having recently moved two to its east coast and mounted them on mobile launchers.

Yonhap said South Korean intelligence officials have identified the missiles as the Musudan, an as-yet untested rocket whose predicted range of 3,000-3,500 miles would potentially encompass South Korea, all of Japan, and the U.S. territory and military base at Guam.

On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, U.S. Pacific Command head Admiral Samuel Locklear confirmed the Musudan movements. He said he was confident the U.S. could intercept any North Korean missile and would recommend that action “in defense of the homeland” or of U.S. allies.

South Korea stepped up its missile-defense monitoring and Japan deployed surface-to-air Patriot missiles at the defense ministry in Tokyo and at several other military bases, to protect against any missile that may head towards that country.

Pyongyang’s launch last December of a rocket – putting a satellite into orbit but at the same time testing long-range ballistic missile capability – marked the beginning of the latest period of tension, which deepened further after it conducted a third nuclear test in February.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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