POSTED: 8:46 a.m. HST, Apr 5, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 1:30 p.m. HST, Apr 5, 2013
MOSCOW » North Korea has warned diplomats in its capital of Pyongyang that it can't guarantee the safety of embassies in the event of a conflict and suggested they may want to evacuate their staff, Russia's top diplomat said today.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is demanding an explanation from the North Koreans — asking whether the warning is an order to evacuate or merely a proposal that they should consider doing so.
"This proposal has been sent to all the embassies in Pyongyang," Lavrov said. "We are now trying to clarify the situation. We asked our North Korean neighbors a few questions that need to be asked in this situation."
About two dozen countries have embassies in North Korea. Lavrov was quoted during a visit to Uzbekistan as saying that Russia is in touch with China, the United States, Japan and South Korea — all members of a dormant talks process with North Korea — to try to figure out the motivation behind the warning.
"We are very much worried by inciting of tensions, even though it's verbal so far," he said. "We would like to understand the reasons behind the proposal to evacuate the embassies, whether it's a decision of the North Korean leadership or a proposal. We were told it's a proposal."
North Korea's government did not comment on the embassy warnings report. Tensions have been roiling in the past few weeks following a North Korean nuclear test and the country's subsequent warnings to South Korea and the United States that it would be prepared to attack.
Britain's Foreign Office confirmed that it had received the warning, which it called part of ongoing rhetoric from Pyongyang to portray the U.S. as a threat.
"The British Embassy in Pyongyang received a communication from the North Korean government this morning saying that the North Korean government would be unable to guarantee the safety of embassies and international organizations in the country in the event of conflict from April 10th," it said in a statement.
Britain said it was "considering next steps" and had no immediate plans to withdraw from Pyongyang.
Other nations with diplomatic missions in North Korea, such as the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, Bulgaria and India, also said they were weighing the situation carefully. The Czechs said they had no plans to withdraw; the Romanians and Bulgarians were speaking with the 27-nation European Union about the situation.
"Naturally, we assess that there is no outside threat to North Korea whatsoever," said Marcin Bosacki, spokesman for Poland's Foreign Ministry. "In our opinion, the current military rhetoric is exclusively directed to the internal audience and does not reflect the true international intentions of the country."
Sweden said North Korea's foreign ministry had a meeting with foreign diplomats but didn't order them to leave.
"It was a meeting that dealt with the security situation in the country, where the North Koreans asked whether there was any need for assistance in case of an evacuation," Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Teo Zetterman said. "But North Korea didn't put forward a demand to evacuate."
A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Pyongyang told Russian media the mission was working normally.
Russia has appeared increasingly upset with neighboring North Korea. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich on Thursday strongly criticized North Korea for its "defiant neglect" of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
A Russian ministry statement today after the embassy evacuations proposal said "We are counting on maximum restraint and composure from all sides."
AP writers Karl Ritter in Stockholm, Danica Kirka in London, Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria, Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, and Karel Janicek in Prague, Czech Republic, contributed to this story.