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SEOUL, South Korea — As the United States and South Korea ended four days of joint naval exercises on Wednesday off the North Korean coast, the South’s intelligence chief warned that the North is likely to repeat a Nov. 23 artillery attack that left four South Koreans dead.
“There is a high possibility that the North will make an additional attack,” Won Sei-hoon, director of the National Intelligence Service, was quoted by Reuters as telling a parliamentary committee meeting. Defense Minister Kim Tae-young has also warned there was an “ample possibility” the North might stage another provocation once the maritime maneuvers ended, Reuters said.
The artillery attack killed two marines and two civilians on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, close to the countries’ disputed maritime border in the Yellow Sea. The barrages from the North, which claimed it was provoked by live artillery fire by the South, was the first attack on a civilian area since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
North Korea, through its official news agency, called the joint drills involving dozens of allied fighter-bombers, surveillance planes and an aircraft carrier strike group “a dangerous act” that have come “at a time when the danger of war is mounting.” Pyongyang said the exercises were “aimed at invading” North Korea.
A South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman said more military exercises were being planned but he declined to say if they would be staged next week. “They will be held at the appropriate time and under the appropriate conditions,” he said.
In Beijing, meanwhile, a senior member of the North Korean regime met on Wednesday with Chinese officials in what both sides said was a previously arranged visit. Choe Tae-bok, the chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly, arrived for a five-day visit that also was scheduled to take him to China’s Jilin Province, which borders North Korea and where most of the North’s defectors make their escapes.
China, North Korea’s only major ally, has twice called for an emergency session of the so-called six-party talks that include the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States. That request has so far been rejected by Seoul, Washington and Tokyo.
In Washington, plans were under way for a meeting next week of American, South Korean and Japanese officials to discuss the allies’ options for a diplomatic response to the North Korea situation.
“I think the Chinese have a duty and an obligation to greatly impress upon the North Koreans that their belligerent behavior has to come to an end,” Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said on Tuesday. “I think you’ll see progress on multilateral discussions around this over the next few days.”
It was still unclear if diplomatic progress would be complicated by some of the disclosures in diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, a group that finds and publishes secret documents. Some of those cables were made available to The New York Times and other publications.
Some of the documents revealed that American and South Korean officials discussed a scenario that included the fall of the communist regime in Pyongyang and the subsequent prospects for a unified Korea. Seoul even considered commercial inducements to China, according to Kathleen Stephens, the American ambassador to South Korea. She told Washington in February that South Korean officials believed that strategic business deals would help allay Beijing’s “concerns about living with a reunified Korea.”
The WikiLeaks cables end in February, a month before the North is believed to have launched a torpedo attack on a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors. That incident and others, including the recent revelation of a new uranium enrichment program in North Korea, have badly frayed inter-Korean relations and heightened tensions in the region.
By: Mark McDonald