North Korea on Tuesday advised foreign citizens to leave South Korea as the region looks to tip into nuclear war, the New York Times reported.
"The situation on the Korean Peninsula is inching close to a thermonuclear war due to the evermore undisguised hostile actions of the United States and the South Korean puppet warmongers," Pyongyang's Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee said in a statement. "It does not want to see foreigners in South Korea fall victim to the war."
The Stalinist state last week told embassies in its capital they should evacuate their diplomats as beginning on Wednesday, the North would no longer be able to ensure staffers' safety. Such warnings and threats by North Korea have brought tensions in Northeast Asia to one of their highest points in decades. The United States after publicizing the recent flyovers of nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52 bombers has moved to dial back such displays of military power in order to avoid further inflaming tensions.
"The continued advancement of the North's nuclear and missile programs, its conventional force posture, and its willingness to resort to asymmetric actions as a tool of coercive diplomacy creates an environment marked by the potential for miscalculation that, and controlled escalation, could result from another North Korean provocative action," the Associated Press quoted U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Samuel Locklear as telling the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
He reaffirmed the U.S. capacity to eliminate a North Korean ballistic missile in flight if necessary, AP reported.
An unidentified South Korean government insider told Reuters a North Korean ballistic missile previously reported to have been loaded onto a mobile launcher and deployed on the east coast had been detected and is assessed to be primed for firing. The missile is thought to be the intermediate-range Musudan, which is believed capable of striking U.S. forces based in Guam.
"Technically, they can launch it as early as tomorrow," according to the source.
South Korean officials assess there is a high probability the North would launch the missile close to April 15 to commemorate the birthday of regime founder Kim Il Sung, according to the Yonhap News Agency.
The Japanese government has fielded Patriot Advanced Capability 3 air-defense systems around Tokyo, a Defense Ministry spokesman said in an Agence France-Presse report. Two PAC-3 batteries are also to be fielded in two other locations in the metro Tokyo region, local news organizations reported.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday warned "the current level of tension is very dangerous," Reuters reported. "A small incident caused by miscalculation or misjudgment may create an uncontrollable situation."
The European Union, however, assessed there is a low likelihood of a new war erupting. "We recognize the situation as being tense and potentially volatile. But our assessment is that there is a limited risk ... of an armed conflict," an anonymous EU official told Reuters. "We haven't seen conspicuous preparations in the North for an attack, and the situation on the ground in Pyongyang looks calm."
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said the Group of Eight nations collectively rejects "Pyongyang's current provocative and bellicose line of conduct," Reuters separately reported.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will discuss the North Korea situation with his South Korean opposite later this week in Seoul, according to Yonhap.