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By Jethro Mullen and Yoonjung Seo, SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) — North Korea on Monday fired more projectiles into the sea off its east coast, South Korean officials said, urging Pyongyang to refrain from “tension-creating acts.”

But Pyongyang described the launches as a “regular military exercise.”

The South Korean Defense Ministry still needs to analyze exactly what the North has been firing for the past three days, said Choi Yong-su, an official in the ministry representative’s office.

They could be short-range missiles or a new kind of large-caliber artillery rocket, the ministry said.

The North fired three projectiles into waters off its east coast Saturday and a fourth Sunday. It fired two more Monday, Choi said.

The short-range launches haven’t so far caused major concern in Seoul or Washington. North Korea last fired this kind of projectile as recently as March, South Korea said.

Accusations of escalation

The office of South Korean President Park Geun-hye said Monday that the North “should not engage in tension-creating acts,” Yonhap reported.

A government statement carried Monday by the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency described the activities over the weekend as “rocket launching drills.” It said the South’s reaction to them was “another unpardonable challenge.”

“Their description of the drills as a factor of escalating the tension on the peninsula and in the region reminds one of a thief crying, ‘Stop the thief!’ ” the statement said.

This month’s launches come after Pyongyang last week criticized the presence of a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in a South Korean port and its reported participation in joint naval drills.

The stop in Busan by the USS Nimitz and its strike group signified a move “to escalate the tension and ignite a nuclear war against” North Korea, the state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary last week.

Also last week, North Korea announced that Kenneth Bae, a U.S. citizen it had sentenced to hard labor, had begun his stay at a “special prison.” Bae, whom the North Koreans call Pae Jun Ho, was arrested in November. The North says he wanted to bring down Kim Jong Un’s regime, but the U.S. and his family say he was just a tour operator.

North Korea is considered to have one of the most repressive penal systems in the world. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 200,000 people are being held in a network of prison camps that the regime is believed to use to crush political dissent.

Before last week, tensions in the region had eased from a period in March and April that included near daily North Korean threats of war against South Korea and the United States.

U.S. and South Korean officials feared at that time that Kim’s regime was planning to carry out a test launch of longer-range ballistic missiles, believed to be Musudans. The South Korean government says Musudans have a maximum range of 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles).

Missiles or artillery?

On Monday, South Korean Defense Ministry Spokesman Kim Min-seok said it remained unclear exactly what the North has been firing over the past few days.

“There is a possibility that the projectiles are either short-range missiles or large-caliber rockets with a similar trajectory as short-range missiles,” he said at a regular news briefing in Seoul.

South Korea suspects that North Korea is still developing large-caliber rockets and isn’t yet capable of deploying them, Kim Min-seok said. That could mean the North’s recent launches are tests of the weaponry.

“Large-caliber means bigger destructive power, so the threat can be greater,” he warned.

Andrew Salmon, a journalist and author based in Seoul, said over the weekend that North Korea’s short-range launches should not cause the same degree of concern as the launch of a satellite or medium-range Musudan missile.

“It’s a short-range tactical weapon. If any other country launched this kind of weapon, it’s a routine test, nobody would be too worried. It’s really simply because it’s North Korea doing this that it raises concerns,” he said.

South Korean officials haven’t so far said any of the projectiles were aimed at the South.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula flared in recent months after the North’s long-range rocket launch in December and underground nuclear test in February, both of which were widely condemned.

Pyongyang’s fiery rhetoric intensified in March, when the U.N. Security Council voted to tighten sanctions on the regime after the nuclear test.

Annual U.S.-South Korean military drills in South Korea also fueled the North’s anger, especially when the United States carried out displays of strength that included nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers.

North Korea is demanding recognition as a nuclear power, something the United States refuses to accept.

Journalist Yoonjung Seo reported from Seoul, and CNN’s Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark in London contributed to this report.

By Barbara Starr, (CNN) — Two North Korean Musudan missiles have been withdrawn from a launch site in the eastern part of the country and sent to a storage facility, a U.S. official confirmed Monday.

The United States had been worried about the prospects of the regime firing the missiles.

For weeks last month, North Korea dished out daily sabre-rattling threats aimed at South Korea and the United States.

The North’s rhetoric intensified after the U.N. Security Council voted in March to slap tougher sanctions on the regime and amid U.S.-South Korean military drills in the region.

By Jethro Mullen. Barbara Starr, and Joe Sterling, (CNN) — A study just completed by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency says North Korea has nuclear weapons that could be delivered by ballistic missiles, a congressman said Thursday.

The revelation came from Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, during a House Intelligence Committee hearing.

“Quoting from the unclassified portion, which I believe has not yet been made public, they say, quote, ‘DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivering by ballistic missiles. However, the reliability will be low.’” Lamborn told Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who was testifying before the committee.

Lamborn asked Dempsey if he agreed with the assessment. Dempsey appeared to be caught off guard.

“Well, I haven’t seen it,” Dempsey replied. “And you said it’s not publicly released, so I — I choose not to comment on it.”

Is North Korea serious about military action? Or is it just testing the world?

A missile had been briefly raised to an upright firing position, stoking concerns that a launch is imminent, a U.S. official told CNN Thursday.

Later, another U.S. official said it’s been tucked back into its launcher.

This comes amid another round of daily tough talk from the North. A government agency is quoted by the state-run media as saying that “war can break out any moment.”

After meeting privately with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the Oval Office, President Barack Obama called on North Korea to tone down the rhetoric.

“We agree now is the time for North Korea to end the kind of belligerent approach they have been taking and try to lower temperatures,” Obama said during a photo opportunity. “No one wants to see a conflict on the Korean Peninsula.”

Ban called on Chinese diplomats to “exercise their leadership and influence” with North Korea to reduce tensions.

The latest move by the North could signify that a much-feared launch is less imminent. It could also mean the government was testing the equipment.

The first U.S. official cautioned that the raising of the missile could have been just a trial run to ensure the equipment works or an effort to “mess” with the United States and the allies that are watching for a launch at any time.

So far, South Koreans — who’ve heard the cross-border bombast before — are taking the swagger in stride. Washington regards much of the North’s saber rattling as bluster.

But no one is taking any chances as the daily clamor of threats from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s government shows no sign of letting up.

The official declined to specify what type of intelligence led the United States to conclude the medium-range missile — a Musudan — was in a firing position.

The Musudan is an untested weapon that South Korea says has a range as far as 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles).

It could reach as far as Guam, a Western Pacific territory that is home to U.S. naval and air bases, and where the United States recently said it was placing missile defense systems.

The United States and South Korean militaries have been monitoring the movements of mobile ballistic missiles on the east coast of North Korea. Japan has deployed defense systems.

The mood in South Korea? ‘Very ordinary’

Life is generally continuing as normal in the region, however, despite the North’s barrage of recent threats, which have included warnings to foreigners on the peninsula about their safety in the event of conflict,

South Koreans, who have experienced decades of North Korean rage and posturing — and occasional localized attacks — have gone about their daily business without alarm.

“South Korea has been living under such threats from the past, and we are always prepared for it,” South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told CNN Wednesday. He called the current climate “a very ordinary situation.”

South urges dialogue over industrial zone

The difficulties at the Kaesong industrial zone, a key symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, are among the few tangible signs of the tensions.

Pyongyang repeated a threat to permanently close the industrial zone, which it jointly operates with the South, accusing South Korean President Park Geun-hye of putting the manufacturing complex at risk.

The South Korean government, meanwhile, urged Pyongyang to work to resolve the situation through dialogue.

“Pyongyang should come to the bargaining table immediately,” Ryoo said.

North Korea has pulled its more than 50,000 workers out of the complex, which is on the northern side of the heavily fortified border that divides the two Koreas, and blocked personnel and supply trucks from entering it from South Korea.

In a statement reported Thursday by state-run media, the North Korean government said that what happens at the complex in the coming days “entirely depends on the attitude of the South Korean authorities.”

U.S. intelligence cites direct threats

The dangers posed by North Korea came up Thursday at a House Intelligence Committee hearing about worldwide threats.

James R. Clapper, director of U.S. national intelligence, said the United States believes the primary objective of Kim’s bellicose rhetoric is to “consolidate and affirm his power” and to show he is “in control of North Korea.”

Clapper said he doesn’t think Kim “has much of an endgame” other than to get recognition from the world as a nuclear power which “entitles him to negotiation, accommodation and, presumably, aid.”

But in a statement for the record before the committee, Clapper reiterated that the nation’s “nuclear weapons and missile programs pose a serious threat to the United States and to the security environment in East Asia.”

Since December, North Korea has put a satellite in orbit atop a long-range rocket; conducted a nuclear bomb test, its third since 2006; and claimed to be prepared for pre-emptive nuclear attacks on the United States, though most analysts believe it does not yet have that capability.

Its most recent nuclear test, in February, resulted in tougher U.N. sanctions, which infuriated Pyongyang, prompting it to sharpen its threats.

Annual military exercises in South Korea by U.S. and South Korean troops, which often upset the North, have added to the tensions, especially when the United States drew attention to shows of strength such as a practice mission by B-2 stealth bombers.

CNN’s K.J. Kwon, Tim Schwarz, Kyung Lah, Judy Kwon, Matt Smith and Elise Labott, Adam Levine and Jim Kavanagh contributed to this report.

By Jethro Mullen. Barbara Starr, and Joe Sterling, (CNN) — Is North Korea serious about military action? Or is it just testing the world?

A missile had been briefly raised to an upright firing position, stoking concerns that a launch is imminent, a U.S. official told CNN Thursday.

Later, another U.S. official said it’s been tucked back into its launcher.

This comes amid another round of daily tough talk from the North. A government agency is quoted by the state-run media as saying that “war can break out any moment.”

The latest move could signify that a much-feared launch is less imminent. It could also mean the government was testing the equipment.

The first U.S. official cautioned that the raising of the missile could have been just a trial run to ensure the equipment works or an effort to “mess” with the United States and the allies that are watching for a launch at any time.

So far, South Koreans — who’ve heard the cross-border bombast before — are taking the swagger in stride. Washington regards much of the North’s saber rattling as bluster.

But no one is taking any chances as the daily clamor of threats from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s government shows no sign of letting up.

The official declined to specify what type of intelligence led the United States to conclude the medium-range missile — a Musudan — was in a firing position.

The Musudan is an untested weapon that South Korea says has a range as far as 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles).

It could reach as far as Guam, a Western Pacific territory that is home to U.S. naval and air bases, and where the United States recently said it was placing missile defense systems.

The United States and South Korean militaries have been monitoring the movements of mobile ballistic missiles on the east coast of North Korea. Japan has deployed defense systems.

The mood in South Korea? ‘Very ordinary’

Life is generally continuing as normal in the region, however, despite the North’s barrage of recent threats, which have included warnings to foreigners on the peninsula about their safety in the event of conflict,

South Koreans, who have experienced decades of North Korean rage and posturing — and occasional localized attacks — have gone about their daily business without alarm.

“South Korea has been living under such threats from the past, and we are always prepared for it,” South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told CNN Wednesday. He called the current climate “a very ordinary situation.”

Tourist visits to the North appear not to have been significantly affected by the situation. China says that while some tour groups have canceled trips, the border between the two countries is still operating normally.

Foreign athletes are expected to compete in a marathon Sunday in Pyongyang, one of many sporting events organized by North Korean authorities to celebrate the 101st anniversary next week of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and the grandfather of leader Kim Jong Un.

“Our group just boarded a full plane for #Pyongyang,” Uri Tours, a U.S.-based travel agency that arranges trips to North Korea, tweeted late Wednesday.

South urges dialogue over industrial zone

The difficulties at the Kaesong industrial zone, a key symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, are among the few tangible signs of the tensions.

Pyongyang repeated a threat to permanently close the industrial zone, which it jointly operates with the South, accusing South Korean President Park Geun-hye of putting the manufacturing complex at risk.

The South Korean government, meanwhile, urged Pyongyang to work to resolve the situation through dialogue.

“Pyongyang should come to the bargaining table immediately,” Ryoo said.

North Korea has pulled its more than 50,000 workers out of the complex, which is on the northern side of the heavily fortified border that divides the two Koreas, and blocked personnel and supply trucks from entering it from South Korea.

In a statement reported Thursday by state-run media, the North Korean government said that what happens at the complex in the coming days “entirely depends on the attitude of the South Korean authorities.”

U.S. intelligence cites direct threats

The dangers posed by North Korea came up Thursday at a House Intelligence Committee hearing about worldwide threats.

James R. Clapper, director of U.S. national intelligence, said the United States believes the primary objective of Kim’s bellicose rhetoric is to “consolidate and affirm his power” and to show he is “in control of North Korea.”

Clapper said he doesn’t think Kim “has much of an endgame” other than to get recognition from the world as a nuclear power which “entitles him to negotiation, accommodation and, presumably, aid.”

But in a statement for the record before the committee, Clapper reiterated that the nation’s “nuclear weapons and missile programs pose a serious threat to the United States and to the security environment in East Asia.”

Since December, North Korea has put a satellite in orbit atop a long-range rocket; conducted a nuclear bomb test, its third since 2006; and claimed to be prepared for pre-emptive nuclear attacks on the United States, though most analysts believe it does not yet have that capability.

Its most recent nuclear test, in February, resulted in tougher U.N. sanctions, which infuriated Pyongyang, prompting it to sharpen its threats.

Annual military exercises in South Korea by U.S. and South Korean troops, which often upset the North, have added to the tensions, especially when the United States drew attention to shows of strength such as a practice mission by B-2 stealth bombers.

CNN’s K.J. Kwon, Tim Schwarz, Kyung Lah, Judy Kwon, Matt Smith and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

Jethro Mullen. Barbara Starr, and Joe Sterling, (CNN) – North Korea has raised at least one missile into its upright firing position, feeding concerns that a launch is imminent, a U.S. official told CNN Thursday.

This comes as the world continued to keep watch for a possible missile launch by the secretive government, and a day before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to arrive in the region.

In the latest daily tough talk from the North, a government agency is quoted by the state-run media as saying that “war can break out any moment.”

The South Koreans — who’ve heard the cross-border bombast before — are taking the swagger in stride. Washington regards much of the North’s saber rattling as bluster.

At the same time, both countries and their allies aren’t taking any chances as the daily clamor of threats from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s government shows no sign of letting up.

North Korea’s “actions and their words have not helped defuse a combustible situation,” U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, and the United States “is fully prepared to deal with any contingency.”

After the raising of the missile Wednesday, it was not clear to U.S. officials why the North Korean government did not proceed with the firing.

The U.S. official cautioned that the raising of the missile could have been just a trial run to ensure the equipment works or an effort to “mess” with the United States and the allies that are watching for a launch at any time.

The official declined to specify what type of intelligence led the United States to conclude the medium-range missile — a Musudan — was in a firing position.

The Musudan is an untested weapon that South Korea says has a range as far as 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles).

It could reach as far as Guam, a Western Pacific territory that is home to U.S. naval and air bases, and where the United States recently said it was placing missile defense systems.

The United States and South Korean militaries have been monitoring the movements of mobile ballistic missiles on the east coast of North Korea.

Japan has deployed defense systems, as it has done before North Korean launches in the past, in case any test-fired missile flies near its territory.

The mood in South Korea? ‘Very ordinary’

Life is generally continuing as normal in the region, despite the North’s barrage of recent threats, which have included warnings to foreigners on the peninsula about their safety in the event of conflict,

South Koreans, who have experienced decades of North Korean rage and posturing — and occasional localized attacks — have gone about their daily business without alarm.

“South Korea has been living under such threats from the past, and we are always prepared for it,” South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told CNN Wednesday. He called the current climate “a very ordinary situation.”

Tourist visits to the North appear not to have been significantly affected by the situation. China says that while some tour groups have canceled trips, the border between the two countries is still operating normally.

Foreign athletes are expected to compete in a marathon Sunday in Pyongyang, one of many sporting events organized by North Korean authorities to celebrate the 101st anniversary next week of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and the grandfather of Kim Jong Un.

“Our group just boarded a full plane for #Pyongyang,” Uri Tours, a U.S.-based travel agency that arranges trips to North Korea, tweeted late Wednesday. “Mix of tourists and marathon runners on their way to #NKorea.”

In a report that diminished the idea of a nation on the brink of war, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said this week that “the ongoing sports tournaments make the country seethe with holiday atmosphere.”

Foreign athletes are expected to compete in a marathon Sunday in Pyongyang, one of many sporting events organized by North Korean authorities to celebrate the 101st anniversary next week of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and the grandfather of Kim Jong Un.

“Our group just boarded a full plane for #Pyongyang,” Uri Tours, a U.S.-based travel agency that arranges trips to North Korea, tweeted late Wednesday. “Mix of tourists and marathon runners on their way to #NKorea.”

In a report that diminished the idea of a nation on the brink of war, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said this week that “the ongoing sports tournaments make the country seethe with holiday atmosphere.”

South urges dialogue over industrial zone

The difficulties at the Kaesong industrial zone, a key symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, are among the few tangible signs of the tensions.

Pyongyang repeated a threat to permanently close the industrial zone, which it jointly operates with the South, accusing South Korean President Park Geun-hye of putting the manufacturing complex at risk.

The South Korean government, meanwhile, urged Pyongyang to work to resolve the situation through dialogue.

“Pyongyang should come to the bargaining table immediately,” Ryoo said.

He added, “The North should stop actions that threaten the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the Northeast Asian region and start behaving as a responsible member of the international community.”

North Korea has pulled its more than 50,000 workers out of the complex, which is on the northern side of the heavily fortified border that divides the two Koreas, and blocked personnel and supply trucks from entering it from South Korea.

More than 120 South Korean companies have operations there.

In a statement reported Thursday by state-run media, the North Korean government said that what happens at the complex in the coming days “entirely depends on the attitude of the South Korean authorities.”

Provocative acts

Since December, North Korea has put a satellite in orbit atop a long-range rocket; conducted a nuclear bomb test, its third since 2006; and claimed to be prepared for pre-emptive nuclear attacks on the United States, though most analysts believe it does not yet have that capability.

Its most recent nuclear test, in February, resulted in tougher U.N. sanctions, which infuriated Pyongyang, prompting it to sharpen its threats.

Annual military exercises in South Korea by U.S. and South Korean troops, which often upset the North, have added to the tensions, especially when the United States drew attention to shows of strength such as a practice mission by B-2 stealth bombers.

Intelligence suggests that North Korea may be planning “multiple missile launches” in the coming days beyond two Musudan mobile missiles it has placed along its east coast, Pentagon officials told CNN. The officials did not have specifics on the numbers of other missiles and launchers.

One official said the North Koreans are military “masters of deception” and may have planned all along to focus the world’s attention on the Musudans while they planned to launch other missiles. That’s a tactic they have used in the past, the official said.

A launch could take place without the standard notice to commercial aviation and maritime shipping that would warn planes and vessels to stay away from the missile’s path, a U.S. official warned earlier this week.

After a launch, U.S. satellites and radars in the region would be able to calculate the trajectory of a missile within minutes and quickly conclude whether it was on a path headed for open ocean or potentially headed for land areas such as Japan.

The United States and Japan would then have to decide whether to try to shoot the missiles down, U.S. officials say. Authorities in Guam raised the threat level Wednesday to yellow, indicating “a medium risk” for the island.

CNN’s K.J. Kwon, Tim Schwarz, Kyung Lah, Judy Kwon, Matt Smith and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

By Jethro Mullen, (CNN) – Countries in northeast Asia remained on edge Wednesday amid warnings from U.S. and South Korean officials that North Korea could carry out a missile test at any point.

Japan has deployed missile defense systems around Tokyo, some Chinese tour groups have canceled visits to North Korea, and U.S. radars and satellites are trained on an area of the Korean east coast where Kim Jong Un’s regime is believed to have prepared mobile ballistic missiles for a possible test launch.

After weeks of belligerent threats and provocative gestures from Pyongyang, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is fragile.

Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, the top U.S. commander in the Pacific, said Tuesday that he couldn’t recall a time of greater tension in the region since the end of the Korean War in the 1950s.

Before the two controversial long-range rocket launches that North Korea carried out last year, the reclusive regime gave ample warning to the world. But it is keeping everyone guessing about what it might do this time around.

Intelligence suggests that North Korea may be planning “multiple mission launches” in the coming days beyond two Musudan mobile missiles it has placed along its east coast, a senior Pentagon official told CNN on Wednesday.

The official did not have specifics on the numbers of other missiles and launchers spotted on U.S. imagery.

The official said the North Koreans are military “masters of deception” and may have planned all along to focus the world’s attention on the Musudans while they plan multiple launches of other missiles, which is a tactic they have used in the past.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said at a parliamentary hearing Wednesday that “according to intelligence obtained by our side and the U.S., the possibility of a missile launch by North Korea is very high,” according to the semiofficial South Korean news agency Yonhap.

The Musudan is an untested weapon that he said has a range as far as 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles). That would mean it could reach as far as Guam, a Western Pacific territory that is home to U.S. naval and air bases and where the United States recently said it was placing missile defense systems.

After any launch, U.S. satellites and radars in the region would be able to calculate the trajectory of missiles within minutes and quickly conclude whether they are on a test path headed for open ocean or potentially headed for land areas such as Japan.

The United States and Japan would then have to decide whether to try to shoot the missiles down, U.S. officials say.

A launch without warning?

Yun said he was basing his assessment on South Korean and U.S. intelligence. On Tuesday, a U.S. official said that the American government believes a test launch could happen at any time and without North Korea issuing a standard notice to commercial aviation and maritime shipping that would warn planes and vessels to stay away from the missile’s path.

The official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the information, cautioned that most of the information comes from satellite imagery, so it’s impossible to reach a definitive conclusion because the United States cannot gather information on the ground.

He said the launch could be “imminent” but also cautioned that the United States “simply doesn’t know.” Based on what the United States has seen, the belief is that the missiles have received their liquid fuel and are ready for launch.

Speaking at a Senate Armed Services hearing Tuesday, Locklear said the U.S. military would not want to shoot down a North Korean missile whose trajectory would send it into the open sea. But he said if the missile’s path appeared to threaten a U.S. ally, such as Japan, interceptor missiles could be used to try to bring it down.

Japan’s deployment of missile defenses in Tokyo follows similar measures taken ahead of the North’s rocket launches last year.

Since the U.N. Security Council voted last month to impose new sanctions on Kim’s regime over the latest North Korean nuclear test, Pyongyang has kept up a steady flow of words and acts that could give the impression of a nation heading inexorably toward conflict.

On Tuesday, it advised foreigners in South Korea to secure shelter or evacuate the country in case of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula, the latest in a string of ominous warnings.

It also kept more than 50,000 of its workers from an industrial complex jointly operated with South Korea, which had been a key symbol of cooperation between the two countries.

‘Holiday atmosphere’ inside North Korea

But on the same day, state media published articles that described festive events and international visits, suggesting a much less fraught situation inside North Korea.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that various sporting events were happening or scheduled to take place to mark the 101st anniversary next week of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and the grandfather of Kim Jong Un.

“The ongoing sports tournaments make the country seethe with holiday atmosphere,” KCNA said. Kim Il Sung’s birthday, known as the Day of the Sun, is a major public holiday in North Korea.

The planned events include an international marathon Sunday in Pyongyang in which runners from North Korea and other countries will participate. KCNA also noted Tuesday the arrival by plane in North Korea of a delegation from the Japan-Korea Society for Scientific and Educational Interchange.

Such visits sit strangely alongside the North’s warning last week to foreign diplomats in Pyongyang that it wouldn’t be able to guarantee their safety in the event of a conflict.

Some North Korea watchers have observed that the regime’s domestic propaganda has focused recently on efforts to promote economic development, while the bellicose threats appear targeted primarily at a foreign audience.

Varying levels of concern

The angry rhetoric has also failed to alarm South Koreans, who have lived through decades of North Korean bombast. Residents of Seoul have continued to go unflappably about their daily business.

“South Korea has been living under such threats from the past, and we are always prepared for it,” South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told CNN on Wednesday. He called the current climate “a very ordinary situation.”

“North Korea may launch missiles at any time, and our military is fully prepared for it,” he said.

But the North’s fiery words appear to have had an effect on the American public, with 41% of those surveyed saying they see the reclusive nation as an immediate threat to the United States, according to a recent CNN/ORC International poll.

That’s up 13 percentage points in less than a month, CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said.

“If North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wanted to get the attention of the American public, his strategy is starting to work,” Holland said.

Andrei Lankov, a professor of history at Kookmin University in Seoul, noted the varying levels of concern in an opinion article for The New York Times published Tuesday.

“The farther one is from the Korean Peninsula, the more one will find people worried about the recent developments here,” he said.

The tense situation does appear to have prompted some Chinese tour groups to call off upcoming trips to North Korea.

Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Wednesday that some agencies and tourists had canceled plans, but he said the Chinese-North Korean border continued to operate normally.

Western tourism agencies that organize visits to North Korea haven’t so far reported any changes to their activities.

A troubled industrial zone

The most tangible signs of disruption are in the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the manufacturing zone on the North Korean side of the border where more than 120 South Korean companies operate.

Last week, the North started blocking South Korean personnel from crossing the border back into the complex. And this week, it said it was pulling out the more than 50,000 North Koreans who work inside the zone and temporarily suspending activities there.

It had blocked the border crossing previously, in 2009, but pulling out the workers was a new step.

As of Wednesday lunchtime, only a few hundred South Koreans remained inside the complex, according to South Korean authorities, down from more than 800 before the North started restricting entry.

Also on Wednesday, South Korea accused the North of carrying out a wave of cyberattacks that paralyzed the networks of major South Korean banks and broadcasters last month. It is the first time that Seoul has formally pointed the finger at Pyongyang for the hacking, which affected more than 48,000 computers.

CNN’s Barbara Starr, Joe Sterling, Elise Labott, K.J. Kwon, Tim Schwarz, Kyung Lah, Judy Kwon, David McKenzie, Tom Cohen and Dana Ford contributed to this report.

Navy-Adm.-Samuel-J.-Locklear-III_0By Jethro Mullen, (CNN) – The top U.S. commander in the Pacific called repeated North Korean violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions forbidding the “building and testing” of long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons “a clear and direct threat to U.S. national security and regional peace and stability.”

Adm. Samuel J. Locklear — commander of the U.S. Pacific Command — spoke at a Senate Armed Services hearing on Tuesday. His comments are part of testimony submitted to the committee.

He spoke as North Korea issued its latest dispatch of ominous rhetoric Tuesday, telling foreigners in South Korea they should take steps to protect themselves in the event of a conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

“North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, its illicit sales of conventional arms, and its ongoing proliferation activities remain a threat to regional stability and underscore the requirement for effective missile defense,” Locklear said in prepared testimony.

“Kim Jong Un’s stated emphasis on economic development and promises of economic growth have so far yielded little, and are undermined by North Korean missile launches and nuclear tests that lead to further sanctions and international isolation,” he said, referring to North Korea’s leader.

The saber rattling is making an impact, poll says

Meanwhile, the storm of warlike words coming from Pyongyang appears to have rattled Americans, with more than 4 in 10 saying they see the reclusive nation an immediate threat to the United States, a new CNN/ORC International poll shows.

That’s up 13 percentage points in less than a month, according to CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

“If North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wanted to get the attention of the American public, his strategy is starting to work,” Holland said.

North Korea’s unnerving message advising foreigners to secure shelter or evacuate in case of hostilities came as Japan set up missile defenses in Tokyo, and North Korean workers failed to turn up for work in the industrial complex jointly operated by North and South Korea.

In the statement published by state-run media Tuesday, the North’s Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee reiterated accusations that Washington and Seoul are seeking to provoke a war with Pyongyang.

“Once a war is ignited on the peninsula, it will be an all-out war,” the committee said, adding that North Korea doesn’t want foreigners in South Korea to “fall victim” to a conflict.

It follows a warning from the North last week to diplomats in its capital city, Pyongyang, that if war were to break out, it would not be able to guarantee their safety.

But staff at the British Embassy in Seoul appeared unimpressed by the North’s most recent attempt to rattle nerves in the region.

“We are not commenting on the specifics of every piece of rhetoric from North Korea,” said Colin Gray, head of media affairs at the embassy. “Our travel advice remains unchanged. At this moment, we see no immediate threat to British citizens in South Korea.”

Several Western countries said last week they had no plans to withdraw staff from Pyongyang after the North’s warning to diplomats there.

And foreign visitors in Seoul didn’t appear to be panicking Tuesday.

“I am concerned, but not enough not to make the trip,” said Vicky Polashock, who was visiting from Atlanta.

She said that there was more tension than she’d noticed on previous visits to South Korea, but that the North’s latest threat “doesn’t heighten the danger any more than the last couple of weeks.”

Threat after threat

North Korea has unleashed a torrent of dramatic threats against the United States and South Korea in recent weeks, including that of a possible nuclear strike. But many analysts have cautioned that much of what Kim Jong Un’s regime is saying is bluster, noting that it is believed to still be years away from developing an operational nuclear missile.

A more likely scenario, they say, is a localized provocative move.

Amid the fiery words from Pyongyang and annual military training exercises by U.S. and South Korean forces in the region, government officials in Washington and Seoul say they are taking the North Korean threat seriously.

The North was blamed for two attacks on South Korea in 2010, one on a navy vessel and another on the island of Yeonpyeong. Those attacks killed 50 people. Pyongyang still denies responsibility for the sinking of the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, in which 46 sailors died.

On Tuesday, Japan said it had deployed missile defense systems around Tokyo amid expectations that the North could carry out a missile test in the coming days.

The Japanese government is making “every possible effort to protect the Japanese people and ensure their safety,” said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The Patriot missile batteries were set up in the central Tokyo district of Ichigaya and in the suburbs of Asaka and Narashino, authorities said.

South Korean government officials have said they think North Korea could conduct the test launch of a missile as soon as Wednesday, following reports that the North had loaded as many as two medium-range missiles onto mobile launchers on its east coast.

The United States had previously said it was moving missile defense systems to Guam, a Western Pacific territory that is home to U.S. naval and air bases. North Korea has cited those bases when listing possible targets for missile attacks.

A symbol of cooperation at risk

The souring situation on the Korean Peninsula was in evidence in the failure of more than 50,000 North Korean workers to show up for work Tuesday morning at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the manufacturing zone shared by the two Koreas that had operated without such an interruption for eight years.

The North had declared Monday that it would pull out its workers and temporarily suspend activities at the complex, which sits on its side of the heavily fortified border but houses the operations of more than 120 South Korean companies.

On Tuesday, the South Korean Unification Ministry said the North Korean workers hadn’t reported for work in the district, which is the last major symbol of cooperation between the two Koreas.

Analysts had expressed skepticism that Pyongyang would follow through on previous threats to shut down the complex, noting that it is an important source of hard currency to the regime of Kim Jong Un.

The move also is likely to put pressure on the city of Kaesong itself, where the North Korean workers and their families live. With an estimated population of between 200,000 and 300,000 people, it is one of the impoverished country’s largest cities.

South Korean officials criticized the North’s decision to halt activities at Kaesong, with President Park Geun-hye saying Tuesday that it risked damaging its credibility as a place to do business.

Since last week, the North had been blocking South Koreans from entering the zone, depriving the factories of key personnel and supplies. The entry ban had already prompted more than 10 of the companies to cease production.

As of Tuesday, 406 South Koreans and two Chinese remained inside the industrial complex, the South Korean government said.

The North had blocked South Koreans from going into the complex before, in March 2009. But it returned the situation to normal in a matter of days and didn’t withdraw its own workers from the factories.

Anger about sanctions

North Korea stepped up its efforts to stir tensions in the region after the U.N. Security Council imposed stricter sanctions for Pyongyang’s latest underground nuclear test, which took place in February.

Shows of strength by the U.S. military during the current training exercises with South Korea have provided extra material for the North’s verbal broadsides.

The United States has since dialed back its military displays to avoid any further escalation of the crisis. It postponed a missile test scheduled for this week in California to prevent any misreading of the situation by Pyongyang.

But North Korea is sticking to its claim that it needs its own nuclear weapons as a deterrent to the threat it perceives from the United States. And it is demanding to be recognized globally as a nuclear power.

Last week, Pyongyang said it would restart a nuclear reactor that it had shut down five years ago under an agreement with Washington, Seoul, Beijing and other parties.

It has also severed a key military hotline with the South, and said it was ditching the armistice agreement that stopped the Korean War in 1954. Because that war ended in a truce and not a formal peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war.

CNN’s K.J. Kwon, Tim Schwarz, Kyung Lah, Judy Kwon, Jim Clancy Yoko Wakatsuki and Junko Ogura contributed to this report.

Jethro Mullen, (CNN) – North Korea issued its latest dispatch of ominous rhetoric Tuesday, telling foreigners in South Korea they should take steps to protect themselves in the event of a conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

Meanwhile, the storm of warlike words coming from Pyongyang appears to have rattled Americans, with more than 4 in 10 saying they see the reclusive nation an immediate threat to the United States, a new CNN/ORC International poll shows.

That’s up 13 percentage points in less than a month, according to CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

“If North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wanted to get the attention of the American public, his strategy is starting to work,” Holland said.

North Korea’s unnerving message advising foreigners to secure shelter or evacuate in case of hostilities came as Japan set up missile defenses in Tokyo, and North Korean workers failed to turn up for work in the industrial complex jointly operated by North and South Korea.

In the statement published by state-run media Tuesday, the North’s Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee reiterated accusations that Washington and Seoul are seeking to provoke a war with Pyongyang.

“Once a war is ignited on the peninsula, it will be an all-out war,” the committee said, adding that North Korea doesn’t want foreigners in South Korea to “fall victim” to a conflict.

It follows a warning from the North last week to diplomats in its capital city, Pyongyang, that if war were to break out, it would not be able to guarantee their safety.

But staff at the British Embassy in Seoul appeared unimpressed by the North’s most recent attempt to rattle nerves in the region.

“We are not commenting on the specifics of every piece of rhetoric from North Korea,” said Colin Gray, head of media affairs at the embassy. “Our travel advice remains unchanged. At this moment, we see no immediate threat to British citizens in South Korea.”

Several Western countries said last week they had no plans to withdraw staff from Pyongyang after the North’s warning to diplomats there.

And foreign visitors in Seoul didn’t appear to be panicking Tuesday.

“I am concerned, but not enough not to make the trip,” said Vicky Polashock, who was visiting from Atlanta.

She said that there was more tension than she’d noticed on previous visits to South Korea, but that the North’s latest threat “doesn’t heighten the danger any more than the last couple of weeks.”

Threat after threat

North Korea has unleashed a torrent of dramatic threats against the United States and South Korea in recent weeks, including that of a possible nuclear strike. But many analysts have cautioned that much of what Kim Jong Un’s regime is saying is bluster, noting that it is believed to still be years away from developing an operational nuclear missile.

A more likely scenario, they say, is a localized provocative move.

Amid the fiery words from Pyongyang and annual military training exercises by U.S. and South Korean forces in the region, government officials in Washington and Seoul say they are taking the North Korean threat seriously.

The North was blamed for two attacks on South Korea in 2010, one on a navy vessel and another on the island of Yeonpyeong. Those attacks killed 50 people. Pyongyang still denies responsibility for the sinking of the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, in which 46 sailors died.

On Tuesday, Japan said it had deployed missile defense systems around Tokyo amid expectations that the North could carry out a missile test in the coming days.

The Japanese government is making “every possible effort to protect the Japanese people and ensure their safety,” said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The Patriot missile batteries were set up in the central Tokyo district of Ichigaya and in the suburbs of Asaka and Narashino, authorities said.

South Korean government officials have said they think North Korea could conduct the test launch of a missile as soon as Wednesday, following reports that the North had loaded as many as two medium-range missiles onto mobile launchers on its east coast.

The United States had previously said it was moving missile defense systems to Guam, a Western Pacific territory that is home to U.S. naval and air bases. North Korea has cited those bases when listing possible targets for missile attacks.

A symbol of cooperation at risk

The souring situation on the Korean Peninsula was in evidence in the failure of more than 50,000 North Korean workers to show up for work Tuesday morning at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the manufacturing zone shared by the two Koreas that had operated without such an interruption for eight years.

The North had declared Monday that it would pull out its workers and temporarily suspend activities at the complex, which sits on its side of the heavily fortified border but houses the operations of more than 120 South Korean companies.

On Tuesday, the South Korean Unification Ministry said the North Korean workers hadn’t reported for work in the district, which is the last major symbol of cooperation between the two Koreas.

Analysts had expressed skepticism that Pyongyang would follow through on previous threats to shut down the complex, noting that it is an important source of hard currency to the regime of Kim Jong Un.

The move also is likely to put pressure on the city of Kaesong itself, where the North Korean workers and their families live. With an estimated population of between 200,000 and 300,000 people, it is one of the impoverished country’s largest cities.

South Korean officials criticized the North’s decision to halt activities at Kaesong, with President Park Geun-hye saying Tuesday that it risked damaging its credibility as a place to do business.

Since last week, the North had been blocking South Koreans from entering the zone, depriving the factories of key personnel and supplies. The entry ban had already prompted more than 10 of the companies to cease production.

As of Tuesday, 406 South Koreans and two Chinese remained inside the industrial complex, the South Korean government said.

The North had blocked South Koreans from going into the complex before, in March 2009. But it returned the situation to normal in a matter of days and didn’t withdraw its own workers from the factories.

Anger about sanctions

North Korea stepped up its efforts to stir tensions in the region after the U.N. Security Council imposed stricter sanctions for Pyongyang’s latest underground nuclear test, which took place in February.

Shows of strength by the U.S. military during the current training exercises with South Korea have provided extra material for the North’s verbal broadsides.

The United States has since dialed back its military displays to avoid any further escalation of the crisis. It postponed a missile test scheduled for this week in California to prevent any misreading of the situation by Pyongyang.

But North Korea is sticking to its claim that it needs its own nuclear weapons as a deterrent to the threat it perceives from the United States. And it is demanding to be recognized globally as a nuclear power.

Last week, Pyongyang said it would restart a nuclear reactor that it had shut down five years ago under an agreement with Washington, Seoul, Beijing and other parties.

It has also severed a key military hotline with the South, and said it was ditching the armistice agreement that stopped the Korean War in 1954. Because that war ended in a truce and not a formal peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war.

CNN’s K.J. Kwon, Tim Schwarz, Kyung Lah, Judy Kwon, Jim Clancy Yoko Wakatsuki and Junko Ogura contributed to this report.

(CNN) — North Korea has loaded two medium-range missiles onto mobile launchers, a U.S. official told CNN Friday. The official confirmed a report made earlier in the day by South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap news agency that the pair of missiles are ready to be launched.

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