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North Korea suggests embassies evacuate Pyongyang

MOSCOW -- North Korea has warned diplomats in the capital, 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 yesterday.

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 to consider doing so.

About two dozen countries have embassies in North Korea. Lavrov said during a visit to Uzbekistan that Russia is in touch with China, the United States, Japan and South Korea to try to figure out the motivation behind the warning.

"We would like to understand the reasons behind the proposal . . . whether it's a decision of the North Korean leadership or a proposal. We were told it's a proposal," he said.

North Korea's government did not comment on the embassy warnings, which came amid roiling tensions.

Britain's Foreign Office confirmed it had received the warning, which it called part of ongoing rhetoric from Pyongyang to portray the United States as a threat. The warning said "the North Korean government would be unable to guarantee the safety of embassies . . . in the event of conflict from April 10th," the British said.

Sweden said North Korea's Foreign Ministry had a meeting with foreign diplomats but didn't order them to leave. Sweden also represents the United States, which doesn't have an embassy or any direct diplomatic presence in North Korea.

"This is just an escalating series of rhetorical statements, and the question is, to what end?" U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

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