North Korea has moved two missiles primed for imminent test firing from a launch site, American officials said Monday, as North Asia tensions eased slightly on the eve of a US-South Korea summit.
US and South Korean officials had been worried Pyongyang would heighten a cycle of provocation, which has included threats of nuclear war, by firing the Musudan missiles, which have a range of up to 3,500 miles (5,630 kilometers).
But a US defense official told AFP on condition of anonymity: "they moved them," and added that there was no longer an imminent threat of a launch.
Pyongyang, which rattled the world earlier this year by staging a nuclear test, would have to make detectable preparations if it changed its mind about a missile launch, two officials said.
As always, North Korea's motivations under its young and unpredictable leader Kim Jong-Un, were not immediately clear.
But the move was revealed in Washington on the eve of a first summit between President Barack Obama and new South Korean President Park Geun-Hye at the White House on Tuesday, intended as a strong signal of unity to Pyongyang.
Earlier, a senior White House official warned that it was too early to say whether North Korea's spate of bellicose behavior, which prompted Washington to send nuclear-capable stealth B-2 bombers over South Korea, was ending.
"It's premature to make a judgment about whether the North Korean provocation cycle is going up, down or zigzagging," said Danny Russel, senior director for East Asia on Obama's National Security Council.
"Many analysts have anticipated that the North Korean provocation cycle would culminate in some sort of a grand fireworks display, and no one can rule that out," Russel said.
But Pentagon spokesman George Little noted the change in North Korea's words, telling reporters Monday the "provocation pause" was a positive development.
The United States and its allies Japan and South Korea had braced for a possible test-launch of the Musudan intermediate missiles in the run-up to North Korean national celebrations on April 15, but it never occurred.
Japan and South Korea stepped up missile defenses, while the US military deployed two destroyers equipped with anti-missile weapons and a powerful radar to the area to thwart any possible launch.
Commanders told lawmakers US forces would be ready to shoot down any missile that threatened allies or US facilities in Guam.
But North Korea never launched a missile and eventually toned down its inflammatory rhetoric, with the crisis appearing to ease in recent days.
Washington is making strenuous efforts to cement Obama's relationship with Park, who arrived in Washington from New York, less than three months after being sworn into office.
Obama will host his visitor, the first woman to lead South Korea, in the Oval Office, hold an expanded luncheon meeting for both delegations, then appear with Park at a joint White House press conference.
Park will address a joint session of the US Congress on Wednesday.
"I would say 90 percent of the US North Korea policy now is simply staying tied tightly with the South Koreans, whichever direction they want to go in," said Victor Cha, who was former president George W. Bush's top aide on Korea.
Park has taken a firm stand against any concessions to North Korea but has also been careful not to close the door to future talks -- which US officials say is ultimately the sole, albeit not ideal, way to deal with Pyongyang.
In an interview with US broadcaster CBS aired late Monday, Park said North Korea's rationale was "extremely weak," adding "they feel very cornered."
Russel said the theatrics of the White House summit were intended to send a clear signal to Pyongyang.
"The unity of message between the two governments and the two presidents signals to North Korea that it has no hope of gaining benefits from provocation," he said.
"We and the world will not try to rent a little peace and quiet by acceding to North Korean demands."
However, Russel said that Washington backed Park's willingness, should Pyongyang comply with UN Security Resolutions to stand down its nuclear program, to respond positively.