Amid North Korea crisis, US scrubs missile test to avoid 'misperception'

Calling off the missile test – which had nothing to do with North Korea – is just one way the US is quietly trying to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Lee Jin-man/AP
A South Korean Army soldier uses his radio at Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Monday. A top South Korean national security official said Sunday that North Korea may be setting the stage for a missile test or another provocative act with its warning that it soon will be unable to guarantee diplomats' safety in Pyongyang.

The Pentagon played down the news that the head of US Forces Korea has decided to stay in South Korea rather than coming to Washington to testify on Capitol Hill this week as he had been scheduled to do.

Senior US military officials called the move by Gen. James Thurman “a prudent measure,” made in consultation with South Korea and in light of recent tensions on the peninsula. And this prudence – along with several other recent events – signals a quiet but concerted campaign on the part of senior Pentagon officials to noticeably ratchet down tensions with North Korea.

The Pentagon, for example, decided to delay an intercontinental ballistic missile test that had been set for this week – even though it had nothing to do with the North Korea crisis.

The test at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California “might be misconstrued by some as suggesting that we were intending to exacerbate the current crisis with North Korea,” a senior defense official told Agence France Press (AFP).

While the Minuteman 3 test was “long planned and was never associated with North Korea to begin with,” a defense official told the Associated Press that “given recent tensions on the Korean peninsula, it’s prudent and wise to take steps that avoid any misperception or chance of manipulation, so the test has been postponed.”

This announcement came on the heels of news that the Pentagon would be attempting  to lower the “temperature” on the Korean peninsula, as press secretary George Little told The Wall Street Journal.

These were sentiments that had been expressed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who said that he did not want to add fuel to the “complicated, combustible situation” there.

The Department of Defense responded robustly to the threats of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un last month, first by sending B-52 bombers, which have nuclear capability, on a low-flying sweep of the region.

The Air Force then flew two stealth B-2 bombers from their home station in Missouri to the Korean peninsula, where they dropped bombs on a South Korean island as part of routine joint military exercises.

Pentagon officials insisted these measures were designed to bolster the confidence of US allies in the region, rather than to send any particular message to Mr. Kim.

That said, senior defense officials say that the exercises will be a quieter affair next year, with a bit less bluster on the part of the United States

Indeed, a senior defense official told AFP it will likely “go a little less public with our exercise activities” next year.

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