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N. Korea backs away from threat to attack S. Korea

12-21-2010 13:43 BJT Special Report:Tension soars on Korean peninsula |

Pyongyang backed off earlier threats to retaliate against South Korea for military drills Monday and reportedly gestured to allow UN inspectors back to visit its nuclear facilities, a sign that it was looking to lower tensions on the Korea Peninsula.

The North Korea's gestures came after South Korea Monday afternoon launched fighter jets, evacuated hundreds of residents near its tense land border with North Korea and sent residents of islands near disputed waters into bunkers in case Pyongyang followed through on its vow to attack over the war games, according to news agency reports.

On November 23, Pyongyang shelled Yeonpyeong Island, a tiny enclave of fishing communities and military bases about 11 kilometers from North Korean shores in response to an earlier round of South Korean live-fire maneuvers. The artillery barrage killed two marines and two construction workers on the island. The clash sent tensions soaring between the two countries — which are still technically at war.

The two Koreas have remained in a tense standoff since the artillery barrage, and an emergency meeting of U.N. diplomats in New York on Sunday failed to find any solution to the crisis.

But Monday brought some of the first positive signs in weeks, as a high-profile American governor announced what he said were two nuclear concessions from Pyongyang. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said that during his visit Pyongyang agreed to let U.N. atomic inspectors visit its main nuclear complex to make sure it's not producing enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb, according to a statement from his office.

Pyongyang expelled U.N. inspectors last year, and last month showed a visiting American scientist a new, highly advanced uranium enrichment facility that could give it a second way to make atomic bombs, in addition to its plutonium program. Richardson also said that Pyongyang was willing to sell fresh fuel rods, potentially to South Korea.

"We had positive results," Richardson told the Associated Press Television News at the Pyongyang airport Monday night.

"This is the way countries are supposed to act," U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. "The South Korean exercise was defensive in nature. The North Koreans were notified in advance. There was no basis for a belligerent response."

China has urged a resumption of the six-party talks, and diplomats said Beijing successfully prevented Sunday's U.N. Security Council meeting from issuing a statement condemning Pyongyang's shelling — as the U.S. and others had wanted, according to an report from the Associated Press.

On Monday, China's deputy U.N. ambassador Wang Min urged both sides "to exercise maximum restraint," avoid increasing tensions and solve differences through dialogue and engagement.

"China will continue to make every efforts towards this end," Wang said. "Calm rather than tensions, dialogue rather than confrontation, peace rather than warfare — this is the strong aspiration and voice of the peoples from both sides of the peninsula and the international community."

Beijing, which provides crucial food and fuel aid to Pyongyang, is wary of pressuring the North in a way that could destabilize it, analysts said. It was unclear if China persuaded North Korea not to react to Monday's drills.

North Korea called Monday's drills a "reckless military provocation" but said after they ended that it was holding its fire because Seoul had changed its firing zones.

The official Korean Central News Agency carried a military statement that suggested Pyongyang viewed Monday's drills differently from those that provoked it last month because South Korean shells landed farther south of North Korea's shores.

Pyongyang claims the waters around Yeonpyeong Island as its territory, and during last month's artillery exchange, North Korea accused the South of firing artillery into its waters.

Editor:Du Xiaodan |Source: People's Daily

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