Alexander F. Yuan, Associated Press
PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea delivered a fresh round of rhetoric Thursday with claims it had "powerful striking means" on standby, hinting at a missile launch, while Seoul and Washington speculated that it is preparing to test a medium-range missile during upcoming national celebrations.
On the streets of Pyongyang, meanwhile, North Koreans shifted into party mode as they celebrated the anniversary of leader Kim Jong Un's appointment to the country's top party post — one in a slew of titles collected a year ago in the months after his father Kim Jong Il's death.
But while there was calm in Pyongyang, there was condemnation in London, where foreign ministers from the Group of Eight nations slammed North Korea for "aggressive rhetoric" that they warned would only further isolate the impoverished nation.
North Korea's provocations, including a long-range rocket launch in December and an underground nuclear test in February, "seriously undermine regional stability, jeopardize the prospects for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and threaten international peace and security," the ministers said in a statement.
In the capital of neighboring South Korea, the country's point person on relations with the North, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, urged Pyongyang to engage in dialogue and reverse its decision to pull workers from a joint industrial park just north of their shared border, a move that has brought factories there to a standstill.
"We strongly urge North Korea not to exacerbate the crisis on the Korean Peninsula," Ryoo said.
In the latest threat from Pyongyang, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, a nonmilitary agency that deals with relations with South Korea, said "striking means" have been "put on standby for a launch and the coordinates of targets put into the warheads." It didn't clarify further, but the language suggested a missile.
The statement was the latest in a torrent of warlike threats seen outside Pyongyang as an effort to raise fears and pressure Seoul and Washington into changing their North Korea policy, and to show the North Korean people at home that their young leader is strong enough to stand up to powerful foes.
Officials in Seoul and Washington say Pyongyang appears to be preparing to test-fire a medium-range missile designed to be capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam in the Pacific Ocean.
Such a launch would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions prohibiting North Korea from nuclear and ballistic missile activity, and mark a major escalation in Pyongyang's standoff with neighboring nations and the U.S. North Korea already has been punished by new U.N. sanctions for the rocket launch and nuclear test.
Analysts do not believe North Korea will stage an attack similar to the one that started the Korean War in 1950. But there are concerns that the animosity could spark a skirmish that could escalate into a serious conflict.
"North Korea has been, with its bellicose rhetoric, with its actions ... skating very close to a dangerous line," U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in Washington on Wednesday. "Their actions and their words have not helped defuse a combustible situation."
The missile that officials believe Pyongyang is readying has been dubbed the "Musudan" by foreign experts after the northeastern village where North Korea has a launch pad. The missile has a range of 3,500 kilometers (2,180 miles), experts say.
Bracing for a launch that officials said could take place at any time, Seoul deployed three naval destroyers, an early warning surveillance aircraft and a land-based radar system, a Defense Ministry official said in Seoul, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with department rules. Japan deployed PAC-3 missile interceptors around Tokyo.
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