WASHINGTON, April 8 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) – US officials said Monday they have asked Russia and China – two North Korean allies – for help in getting Pyongyang to back off the escalating rhetoric and inflammatory actions that have alarmed its neighbors and prompted the Pentagon to heighten its military readiness.
“We have asked China and Russia to use their influence with North Korea to get them to cease this provocative behavior,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney during a press briefing Monday.
“But as veterans of this issue, we've seen this pattern of behavior before. It comes at the expense of the welfare of the North Korean people,” he added.
On Monday during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Hanover, Germany, Russian President Vladimir Putin appealed for calm on the Korean Peninsula. “I would like to call on everybody to calm down and to sit down at the negotiating table and calmly resolve the issues that have been accumulating there for many years,” Putin said.
Putin warned that the escalating tensions in the region could lead to a nuclear disaster far worse than the Chernobyl incident.
North Korea announced Monday it was suspending operations at the Kaesong industrial complex that it runs jointly with South Korea, a factory that employees more than 53,000 North Korean workers.
North Korea has also reportedly moved two missiles capable of striking the US Pacific territory of Guam onto mobile launch pads, and advised foreign embassies to consider pulling staff out of Pyongyang by Wednesday when it said it cannot guarantee the safety of diplomats in the capital city.
A top South Korean government official said North Korea could launch a missile this week. South Korean Presidential Security Advisor Kim Jang-soo said Seoul “is leaving all possibilities open and is well-prepared for any scenario.”
The US announced over the weekend it had delayed an intercontinental ballistic missile test in order to avoid further escalation of the conflict, a move that won praise from Putin on Monday.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Associated Press he doesn’t think North Korea will take military action soon, but said the US has strengthened its missile defenses because he “can’t take the chance.”
Tensions have been rising since December, when international sanctions against North Korea were imposed in response to a long-range rocket launch. Pyongyang responded with a nuclear test in February, which was followed by more sanctions approved by the United Nations Security Council.
North Korea has threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes against the US mainland and US military bases in the region.
The US State Department said Monday it had encouraged officials in Beijing and Moscow to “make their case to Pyongyang that they have to refrain from provocative rhetoric and threats.”
“We’ll continue to work with the Chinese, we’ll continue to work with the Russians and other partners to get North Korea to abide by its obligations,” said Acting Deputy State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell.