UK diplomats remain in place despite North Korea warning as Pyongyang moves missiles onto coast prompting fears of imminent attack

Beijing is believed to have sent private messages to Kim Jong-un urging caution

British and other foreign embassies in Pyongyang still appeared to be remaining in place on Saturday evening after North Korea warned that it could not guarantee their safety.

Diplomats from the relatively small number of states which maintain missions in the country were asked to the Foreign Ministry and told that they would be given help to move out by next Wednesday because of the threat of conflict with the United States and South Korea.

The move by Kim Jong-un’s regime, which appears to have caught the international community by surprise, was being interpreted as yet another attempt to ratchet up tension and reinforce the message that it is serious about its military challenge.

The pariah state has recently issued a series of threatening statements, including a declaration this week that its military is authorised to launch a nuclear attack on the United States. South Korea deployed two warships with missile defence systems after news reports declared the North had moved a second missile to its east coast, though the South said it did not necessarily regard the North’s move as a hostile act.

The current UK ambassador, Michael Gifford, has been living in North Korea, accompanied by his wife, Patricia, for the past six months. The Foreign Office stressed that North Korea “has responsibilities under the Vienna Convention to protect diplomatic missions, and we believe they have taken this step as part of their continuing rhetoric that the US poses a threat to them.

“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. We condemn this behaviour and urge the North Korean government to work constructively with the international community, including over the presence of foreign embassies.”

North Korea’s action was not in retaliation to David Cameron declaring that its missiles pose an existential threat to the UK. The claim, which is related to domestic debate about the Trident nuclear deterrent, has been widely disparaged – there is no evidence that Pyongyang possesses such military capability.

Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia, which also has an embassy in Pyongyang, that it was similarly advised to evacuate, said: “We have had this proposal for evacuation. We are in close contact with our Chinese partners as well as the Americans, the South Koreans and the Japanese.”

He said Moscow was “deeply concerned about the escalation of tension, which for now is verbal”. The Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, Bulgaria and India, which also hold diplomatic missions in North Korea, said they were weighing the situation carefully.

China, which has supported North Korea economically as well as politically in the past, has shown increasing exasperation at aggressive rhetoric and actions by Pyongyang, calling it “regrettable”. Beijing is believed to have sent private messages to Kim Jong-un urging caution.

North Korea did, however, receive encouragement from one state – Iran. Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, the armed forces deputy chief, blamed tensions in the region on “excessive demands by the United States... and its tightening of the noose on North Korea. Independent countries do not submit to American adventurism”.

Both Iran and North Korea are under United Nations’ Security Council sanctions for their ballistic missile and nuclear programmes. A 2011 UN report said Tehran and Pyongyang were suspected of sharing ballistic missile technology.

It remains unclear just how close Seoul thinks its northern neighbour is edging towards war. The latest batch of propaganda footage sent from Pyongyang contained images of Kim Jong-un carrying out target practice with a pistol. At the same time, the South Korean army released film of reservists taking part in a “Gangnam Style” dance led by a cheerleader.

The sabre-rattling, however, has continued. North Korea is reported to have loaded the the two missile batteries on its east coast on to launchers. Seoul’s two warships have been dispatched to the east and west coast of the country.

The North Korean missiles are of the Musudan class, with a range of 4,000km, putting Japan and Guam – where the Americans have a military base – as well as South Korea, within their range.

Korean diplomacy: Embassy outposts

North Korea’s memo to the British Embassy in Pyongyang is the latest glimpse into an esoteric – extremely secretive – diplomatic relationship.

Five British staff work at the embassy, stationed in Munsu-dong, a diplomatic compound, home to a handful of expatriates. Their work includes providing English-language training and overseeing “bilateral humanitarian projects”.

Last year pictures emerged of a grinning foreigner on a roller coaster with Kim Jong-un. He was identified as Barnaby Jones, one of the embassy’s junior diplomats, prompting a nervous response from the Foreign Office, which conceded that while “unusual”, the exercise was part of a “number of humanitarian, cultural and education projects which benefit the people of North Korea”.

On Boxing Day 2010 North Korean television screened the film Bend It Like Beckham to mark the decade-long relationship between the two countries.

North Korea keeps its own British outpost at 73 Gunnersbury Avenue, an unglamorous thoroughfare better known to motorists as the North Circular Road. It is near a petrol station and curry house, and its doors, like the borders of North Korea, often remain shut.

Kunal Dutta

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week