SEOUL/WASHINGTON, April 8 (Yonhap) -- The top U.S. military commander in South Korea has called off a trip to Washington this week, the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Monday, as the Pentagon is on full alert for North Korea's possible missile launch or other provocative acts.
Army Gen. James Thurman had planned to testify at a series of congressional hearings on the operations of the 28,500 American troops in Korea, but he has decided to stay in Seoul next week, the USFK said in a statement.
Gen. James Thurman, the commander of United States Forces Korea (Yonhap file photo)
"Given the current situation, General Thurman will remain in Seoul next week as a prudent measure. He has asked the Senate Armed Services Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and the House Appropriations Committee-Defense to excuse his absence until he can testify at a later date," the USFK statement said. "He looks forward to appearing before the committee at the earliest possible date."
The move is another indication that the U.S. is taking North Korea's military threats seriously amid reports that it appears to be preparing for a middle-range missile launch from the east coast.
Officials and analysts say Pyongyang may make a move around April 15, the birthday of the communist nation's late founding leader Kim Il-sung. Last year, the North fired a three-stage rocket on April 13, which ended in failure.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Gen. Jung Seung-jo, also canceled an annual meeting in Washington with his U.S. counterpart, Gen. Martin Dempsey, slated for April 16.
The two sides will instead continue consultations with each other through a video conference, a South Korean military official said.
Earlier, the Pentagon said it would postpone a long-scheduled test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Minuteman 3, which was set for this week in California.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the delay of the test due to concerns that it could be misinterpreted and exacerbate the Korean crisis, Pentagon officials said.
After flamboyantly demonstrating its advanced warplanes and naval ships for weeks to counter North Korea's bellicose rhetoric, the U.S. government has apparently shifted gears to focus on cooling down tensions on the peninsula.
The White House dismissed a view that the U.S. is caving in to North Korea's threats.
"No, absolutely not," Dan Pfeiffer, a senior advisor to President Barack Obama told Fox News. "Let's take a step back and look at the whole picture here."
"The onus is on the North Koreans to do the right thing here," he added. "They are the source of the problem, and the only way to solve this is for them to take a step back."
He said that the White House won't be surprised by any additional missile launch by North Korea, which has been part of its repeated pattern.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) expressed worries over the possibility of another major war in Korea.
"The politics in South Korea are changing by the day regarding North Korea, so if there's some provocation, it won't be business as usual by South Korea," he told NBC News. "I could see a major war happening if the North Koreans overplay their hand this time, because the public in South Korea, the United States, and I think the whole region, is fed up with this guy (Kim Jong-un)."
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called for diplomatic efforts to calm tensions.
"I believe that talking to them is important...Talking is actually a form of trying to solve problems," she said on a talk show with CBS. "They are isolated but not uninformed."
Albright traveled to Pyongyang in 2000 and met with then-North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il, father of the current leader.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked China to help diffuse tensions in Korea.
In a phone conversation, Ban and China's new foreign minister, Wang Yi, discussed recent developments in Korea and "shared deep concern about the escalating tensions there," according to Ban's spokesperson, Morana Song.
Song added that Ban also said, "He was committed to doing whatever he could to de-escalate tensions. He said he was confident that the Chinese leadership would also do its best to help calm the situation and help Pyongyang reverse course."