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North Korea says it will not respond to South Korean military exercise

North Korea has said it sees no reason to retaliate over South Korean exercises on the island of Yeonpyeong, and has offered to reengage with UN watchdogs over its nuclear weapons program.

South Korean soldiers

South Korea went forward with the drill

North Korea said on Monday it "did not feel any need to retaliate against every despicable military provocation," after having earlier threatened a deadly response to South Korean military exercises. The statement by the military command, carried on the North Korean news agency KCNA, continued, "The world should properly know who is the true champion of peace and who is the real provocateur of a war."

South Korea fired dozens of artillery rounds during a live-fire exercise from the island of Yeonpyeong on Monday.

The island lies near the border with North Korea, which has threatened retaliation. After a similar drill last month, North Korean military shelled the island, killing four people.

The United Nations Security Council met for an emergency session on Sunday over the growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but was unable to come up with a unanimous response to the crisis.

The majority of the 15 council members have insisted "on a clear-cut condemnation of the November 23 attack" by North Korea on South Korea in an artillery shelling incident, said Susan Rice, the US envoy to the United Nations.

"There was not unanimity on that point," she said. Russia and China were instead pushing for an ambiguous statement that would not blame North Korea for the crisis, she added.

"It is important that we keep in mind that this tense situation springs from one source and one source alone - the consistently provocative behavior of North Korea," she said.

Russia, which had demanded the meeting, said a special UN envoy was needed to facilitate talks between North and South Korea.

According to a draft statement distributed by Russia to the other 14 Security Council members, it instead called for "maximum restraint" by the two sides.

Both Koreas have warned they will use military means to defend the disputed border zone on the west coast, raising concerns in the international community that the standoff could rapidly escalate.

Military exercises test tensions

A meeting of the UN Security Council

Russia called for restraint from both sides in a statement to the UN Security Council

Following the shelling of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong by the North last month, tensions have spiked between the two neighbors. The attack on the island killed two civilians and two South Korean marines.

The South's latest plans to conduct live-fire drills on the island were backed by the United States. Residents there were told to move into shelters.

North Korea warned of "catastrophe" if the South went ahead with the military exercise, saying it would trigger all-out conflict on the peninsula.

The Yonhap news agency, quoting a South Korean government source, reported that Pyongyang had raised an alert for artillery units along the west coast.

Council split over whether to assign blame

Western envoys inside Sunday's eight-hour closed door meeting told the Reuters news agency, on condition of anonymity, that council members were split over whether to assign blame for the crisis to North Korea.

The US, Britain, France and non-permanent member Japan supported the idea, with Russia and China against the move.

The two holdouts eventually revised their draft statement, condemning last month's attack which Ban has called "one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War." They did not, however, explicitly blame North Korea for the attack.

Russia 's role

The Russian draft resolution released Sunday sought "a resumption of dialogue and resolution of all problems dividing [the two sides] exclusively through peaceful diplomatic means."

In the resolution, Russia calls for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to "dispatch without delay" a special representative to Seoul and Pyongyang.

Russia called for the emergency meeting on Saturday and expressed some anger that it was only to be convened a day later.

The Security Council is currently led by the US, and a statement said the meeting was organized for Sunday so that countries had time to consult with their governments.

Commitment to re-admit inspectors

According to the television news channel CNN, a US envoy to North Korea, Bill Richardson, had won agreement to re-admit UN nuclear weapons inspectors.

But a spokesman for the US State Department, Philip Crowley, said the government was skeptical that North Korea would in fact re-admit the inspectors, who were expelled a year ago.

"North Korea talks a great game. They always do. The real issue is what will they do," Crowley said.

Author: Martin Kuebler, Thomas Sheldrick, Michael Lawton (AP, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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