Tensions ease as North Korea removes missiles from launch site

AFP-JIJI

North Korea has moved two missiles from launch sites on the country’s eastern coast, U.S. officials revealed Monday, signaling lowered tensions following worries Pyongyang was ready to test-fire the weapons.

The Musudan missiles had been ready to launch at any moment, but “they moved them,” a U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

North Korea’s move means there is no longer an imminent threat of a launch, and its regime would have to make preparations before returning to a launch-ready status, two U.S. officials said.

Amid dire threats and bellicose language from Pyongyang, two Musudan missiles had been deployed to the east coast, and the United States and its allies, Japan and South Korea, had braced for a possible test-launch in the runup to national celebrations in the North on April 15.

Tokyo and Seoul stepped up their missile defense systems, while the U.S. military deployed two destroyers equipped with antimissile weapons and a powerful radar to the area to thwart any possible launch.

U.S. commanders told lawmakers that their forces would be ready to shoot down any missile that threatened Washington’s allies or U.S. facilities in Guam. But North Korea never launched a missile and eventually toned down its inflammatory rhetoric, with the crisis appearing to ease in recent days.

Pentagon spokesman George Little noted the change in the North’s words, telling reporters Monday that the “provocation pause” was a positive development.

A Musudan missile has an estimated range of up to 5,630 km, according to military officers. But analysts disagree about the missile’s capabilities and believe Pyongyang has never tested the weapon in flight.

North Korea has several hundred short- and medium-range missiles that could reach targets in Japan or South Korea, according to the Pentagon.