North Korea seems to have downgraded its military readiness level and to have fully removed from its east coast two intermediate-range ballistic missiles, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Tuesday, though Western officials hesitated to declare the development good news.
The earlier deployment of the weapons stoked regional fears of an imminent missile test or attack. An anonymous South Korean government insider said, however, that "North Korea appears to have lifted the highest combat alert around April 30."
"It appears that the two Musudan missiles have been moved to some other place, though we have yet to confirm where they are located. Intelligence authorities of South Korea and the U.S. are closely tracking them."
An unidentified U.S. official pointed out to Reuters on Monday that the Musudan missiles are transportable so there is still a chance that they could be repositioned somewhere else for a surprise launch.
"It's premature to celebrate it as good news," White House senior adviser for Asian affairs Daniel Russel said.
Defense Department spokesman George Little told journalists that the U.S. government assesses that Pyongyang has gone into a "'provocation pause.' And we think that's obviously beneficial to efforts to ensure we have peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday informed journalists that the Tuesday summit between President Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye is not anticipated to result in any newly agreed-upon joint actions for dealing with North Korea, Yonhap reported.
Park's plan to alter Pyongyang's behavior through inter-Korean trust-building steps received backing on Monday from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Yonhap separately reported.
Meanwhile, the North Korean military command charged with activities in the state's southwest on Tuesday threatened to retaliate if any artillery rounds launched as part of ongoing U.S.-South Korea maritime maneuvers land inside its jurisdiction, according to an Associated Press report.
Gathering good intelligence on the status of the isolated country's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development has become increasingly difficult for the outside world, the New York Times reported on Monday.
An example is North Korea's third atomic test in February. The international community had hoped to analyze the radioactive emissions produced from the blast to learn if a uranium- or plutonium-fueled device was used but this was not possible due to how tightly the underground testing chamber was sealed by the North.
Discerning the motives and plans of the young Kim Jong Un regime is also difficult for U.S. intelligence branches.
In Chicago, meanwhile, a Taiwanese merchant and his son, a U.S. resident, have been accused in federal court of violating U.S. regulations against the sale of weapons equipment to North Korea, AP reported.
Hsein Tai Tsai was taken into custody last week in the Estonia capital of Tallinn. U.S. officials want him extradited. The son, Yueh-Hsun Tsai, was apprehended in a suburb of Chicago.