North Korea advised the Russian and British embassies in Pyongyang today evacuate their staff, saying their safety could be at risk "in the event of conflict from April 10."
"The proposal was made to all the embassies in Pyongyang, and we are now trying to shed light on the situation," Sergei Lavrov told journalists in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office in Britain confirmed the request in a statement. "The British Embassy in Pyongyang received a communication from the North Korean government this morning,"
The news was the latest escalation of tension on the Korean Peninsula, spurred by near daily bellicose threats North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made, since the U.S. and South Korea began large scale military exercises last month.
On Thursday, U.S. officials confirmed that two medium-range missiles had been moved to North Korea's eastern coast, fueling speculation that North Korea was planning a missile strike.
In response, South Korea sent two Aegis destroyers equipped with advanced radar systems to both its coasts. The untested North Korean Musudan missile is estimated to have a range of between 1,800 and 2,500 miles, potentially putting U.S. military bases in Okinawa and Guam within its range.
The call to evacuate foreign embassies appeared to be the latest tactic by North Korea to dial up the rhetoric and win concessions from the U.S. and South Korea. Pyongyang has already threatened a nuclear strike against the U.S., declared it has scrapped the Korean War armistice, vowed to restart a plutonium reactor, and blocked South Koreans from entering the jointly run industrial complex in Kaesong.
"If Pyongyang were getting ready for an armed conflict in earnest, it would hardly have asked the foreign missions to leave the country," said Alexander Zhebin, head of the Korean Studies Center of Russian Academy of Science, in an interview with Interfax. "Moreover, the North Koreans would in that case have used foreign diplomatic missions as a shield, because strikes against Pyongyang, which would have affected embassies as well, would naturally have been condemned and rejected unanimously by Russia, China and other countries."
In North Korea today, thousands took part in rallies against the U.S. and South Korea. Broadcaster KRT aired images of students donning military uniforms, practicing their shooting while speaking against "the warmongers in the White House and Pentagon," according to the Associated Press. State television also showed workers from the Pyongyang 326 Cable Factory supporting their country's nuclear program.
"I cannot stand it anymore. We're scared of nothing," said one marching student.
While Kim has yet to act on his threats, the mere prospect of conflict on the peninsula, has rattled investors' confidence in South Korea. The Yonhap News Agency reported foreigners were rushing to unload South Korean shares and bonds, with investors offloading $667 million in the stock market Wednesday and Thursday as they looked to safer investment destinations.
GM CEO Dan Akerson said he would consider shifting production away from the Korean Peninsula if the situation deteriorated.
"If there were something to happen in Korea, it's going to affect our entire industry, not just General Motors," Akerson said, in an interview with CNBC.