SEOUL, South Korea — The U.S. special envoy urged North Korea Saturday to halt its belligerent rhetoric after the communist country said it could not guarantee the safety of South Korea's passenger jets flying near its airspace.
North Korea escalated tensions Thursday by saying the safety of commercial aircraft would be in question if annual joint U.S.-South Korean military maneuvers went ahead as planned Monday.
"I don't think the warning was very helpful," Stephen W. Bosworth told reporters upon arrival in South Korea, the last leg of his regional tour that took him to China and Japan. "Everyone would be much happier if they would drop that line of rhetoric."
Bosworth also said the North's expected launch of a missile or satellite was "very ill-advised."
The comments came amid heightened tensions over stalled reconciliation efforts on the divided Korean peninsula.
Pyongyang has said it was preparing to send a communications satellite into space, but regional powers suspect the claim is a cover for the launch of a long-range missile capable of reaching Alaska.
Bosworth said the U.S. wants dialogue with the North, adding Washington is "reaching out now."
Bosworth plans to meet Russia's nuclear envoy in Seoul later Saturday and hold consultations with South Korean officials on Monday before returning home.
Meanwhile, South Korea shipping companies have joined airlines in rerouting container ships away from North Korean waters as a precautionary step, the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper said.
The move came as South Korea's two main airlines, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, began redirecting flights to and from North America to fly farther south to stay away from North Korea.
On Friday, at least two foreign airlines, Air Canada and Singapore Airlines, also changed flight paths to and from Seoul, an official at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority said. He agreed to discuss the matter only if not quoted by name because he was not authorized to talk with journalists.
The joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises begin Monday and are scheduled to run 12 days. Washington and Seoul say the exercises are defensive, not preparation for an invasion as North Korea claims.
The U.S. military said it would go ahead with the drills involving its 26,000 military personnel in South Korea, an unspecified number of southern soldiers and a U.S. aircraft carrier.