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N. Korea warns embassies it can't guarantee safety, suggests possibly evacuating

In this Sunday, March 31, 2013 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed in Tokyo Monday, April 1, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un raises his hand with other officials to adopt a statement during a plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea.
AP Photo/KCNA via KNS

MOSCOW North Korea has warned foreign 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 Friday.

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. 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," he said.

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" but had no immediate plans to withdraw from Pyongyang.

"In recent weeks, the North Korean Government has raised tensions on the Korean peninsula and the wider region through a series of public statements and other provocations," the British statement continued. "We condemn this behaviour and urge the North Korean Government to work constructively with the international community, including over the presence of foreign Embassies."

Other nations with diplomatic missions in North Korea, such as the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria, also said they were weighing the situation carefully. The Czechs said they had no plans to withdraw; the Romanians and Bulgarians said they were speaking with the European Union about the situation.

A spokesman for the Russian embassy in the North Korean capital, Denis Samsonov, told Russian media that the embassy was working normally.

Russia has appeared increasingly angry with North Korea as tensions roiled 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.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich on Thursday strongly criticized North Korea for its "defiant neglect" of U.N. Security Council resolutions. A ministry statement Friday after the embassy evacuations proposal said "We are counting on maximum restraint and composure from all sides."

Ret. Gen. Richard Myers, a former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and a CBS News analyst, said Friday that, if North Korea were to launch a missile at U.S. interests in the region, "our missile defenses are pretty good."

"I think our missile defenses, even our long-range missile defenses, but particularly our shorter-range missile defenses that are on the ships, the THAAD system that is in the process of being moved to Guam, those are very effective and efficient systems," said Myers, who also noted that the U.S. has Patriot missile defense batteries in South Korea "that are very effective as well."