Friday, November 26, 2010

US downplays shelling by North as aircraft carrier heads for Koreas


INCHEON, South Korea/WASHINGTON: The United States said Wednesday it believed North Korea’s shelling of a South Korean island this week was an isolated act tied to leadership changes in Pyongyang and called on China to use its influence to stop the North’s provocative behavior.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States was working with allies on ways to respond but said that “It’s very important for China to lead.”
“The one country that has influence in Pyongyang is China and so their leadership is absolutely critical,” Mullen told a US television talk show.
A day after North Korea rained artillery shells at the island of Yeonpyeong, killing two civilians, a US aircraft carrier group set off for Korean waters Wednesday to take part in drills.
Although the US Forces Korea said the exercise had been planned well before the attack, many thought the move would enrage the North and unsettle its ally, China.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley also said the US expects China to use its influence to get North Korea to cease its provocative behavior, saying Beijing could play a “pivotal” role in helping to calm the situation.
Mullen said he believed the attack was linked to the succession of the reclusive state’s leadership.
Widely thought to be in failing health, Kim Jong-il appointed his younger son to key posts in September, a move seen as grooming him to be the North’s next leader. But Kim Jong-un has no real support base, and with the economy in dire straits there is a risk powerful military or government figures may decide the time is opportune for a power grab.
Tuesday’s attack by the North was the heaviest since the Korean War ended in 1953 and marked the first civilian deaths in an assault since the bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987. 
North Korea said the shelling was in self-defense after Seoul fired shells into its waters near the disputed maritime border. The North’s KCNA news agency said the South was driving the peninsula to the “brink of war” with “reckless military provocation” and by postponing humanitarian aid. 
“The DPRK that sets store by the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula is now exercising superhuman self-control, but the artillery pieces of the army of the DPRK, the defender of justice, remain ready to fire,” the agency said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. 
The nuclear-powered USS George Washington, which carries 75 warplanes and has a crew of over 6,000, left a naval base south of Tokyo and would join exercises with South Korea from Sunday to the following Wednesday, US officials in Seoul said. 
“An aircraft carrier is the most visible sign of power projection there is … you could see this as a form of pre-emptive deterrence,” said Lee Chung-min of Yonsei University in Seoul. 
In Seoul, the South Korean government came under pressure for the military’s slow response to the provocation, echoing similar complaints made when a warship was sunk in March in the same area, killing 46 sailors. 
Defense Minister Kim Tae-young was grilled by lawmakers who said the government should have taken quicker and stronger retaliatory measures against the North’s provocation.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

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