South Korean and U.S. armed forces on Wednesday went on high alert in the region in response to intelligence assessments that North Korea is on the verge of firing an intermediate-range ballistic missile deployed on its eastern shore, the New York Times reported.
The Combined Forces Command in South Korea is now on "Watchcon" and has increased surveillance and information collection efforts on North Korea, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.
"Based on intelligence we and the Americans have collected, it's highly likely that North Korea will launch a missile," South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se informed lawmakers. "Such a possibility could materialize at any time from now."
Medium-range Rodong and shorter-range Scud missiles have also been spotted fielded on North Korea's east coast, suggesting multiple launches could take place concurrently, according to South Korean defense sources.
U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Samuel Locklear on Tuesday told a Senate hearing that an undetermined quantity of Musudan missiles are thought fielded on the North's east coast, Reuters reported.
Seoul is working with Russia and China "to make efforts to persuade North Korea to change its attitude," Yun said.
Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Wednesday said the nation's armed forces were also on "full alert" to respond to any North Korean missile launches, according to Agence France-Presse. "We will maintain this sense of vigilance."
Concerns about the North Korean missile threat have prompted the U.S. Air Force to change course on a cost-saving decision to reduce usage in this fiscal year of an early warning radar deployed on the Aleutian Islands, Reuters separately reported. "With the situation in North Korea, we've decided to leave that at full power," Air Force Space Command head Gen. William Shelton informed journalists.
U.S. special envoy Clifford Hart in March spoke with North Korean Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Han Song Ryol in New York City, CNN reported, citing an informed source who said the meeting did not produce any action items.