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Asia

South Korea breathes sigh of relief

North Korea has not retaliated against South Korea's live-fire drills on the island of Yeonpyeong. Instead, Pyongyang on Tuesday apparently offered to allow nuclear inspectors back in after kicking them out last year.

South Korean marines on Yeonpyeong island near the disputed sea border with North Korea

South Korean marines on Yeonpyeong island near the disputed sea border with North Korea

Instead of unleashing all-out war as some had feared Pyongyang might do after South Korea decided to go ahead with military exercises on Monday, Pyongyang let it be known that Seoul’s provocations needed no response.

South Korea conducted the drills on Monday despite repeated warnings from Pyongyang that such a move would only escalate tension on the peninsula, but directed all shots into the sea, a good ten kilometers away from the two countries' disputed sea border.

South Korean Col. Lee Boong-woo, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke briefly after the 90 minutes of military exercises were over

South Korean Col. Lee Boong-woo, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke briefly after the 90 minutes of military exercises were over

In the South Korean media, most of the editorials commended Seoul’s decision to go ahead with the drills and send a strong message to Pyongyang it was willing to act if need be.

Last month, the government had come under heavy criticism when it failed to show enough military resolve in the wake of Pyongyang's attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong that killed two soldiers and two civilians.

Deadlock at UN Security Council

The sigh of relief in South Korea coincided with deadlocked efforts at the UN Security Council in New York to ease tension on the Korean peninsula.

The US and Japan want to issue a statement blaming the crisis on Pyongyang, but China and Russia refuse to concede on this point.

South Korean marines went ahead with live-fire drills despite repeated warnings from Pyongyang

South Korean marines went ahead with live-fire drills despite repeated warnings from Pyongyang

China’s vice ambassador to the United Nations Wang Min summed up his country's stance after the behind-the-scenes talks were broken off: "Maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula is in the interest of both the South and the North, as well as other relevant parties. We strongly appeal to all parties to exercise maximum restraint and act in a responsible manner."

"We’ll be guided by what North Korea does"

Meanwhile, US troubleshooter Bill Richardson said in Beijing that Pyongyang had agreed to allow international nuclear inspectors back in the country after kicking them out last year.

"The North is willing to allow International Atomic Agency personnel to visit the Yongbyon sites and make sure that there are no efforts to enrich uranium. Secondly, the North is willing to negotiate with South Korea to sell close to 12,000 spent fuel rods and ship them out of the country."

"It's time for citizen diplomats like myself to step aside and let governments move forward," he added. "I commend the South Korean government for their restraint the North Korean leadership for not retaliating."

Not all South Koreans are in favor of strong military action on the part of their government

Not all South Koreans are in favor of strong military action on the part of their government

On Tuesday, Washington reacted in a lukewarm fashion to the offer that neither North Korea nor the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed

"We'll be guided by what North Korea does and not what North Korea says it might do," Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley said. "If North Korea wants to re-engage with the IAEA, wants to re-introduce inspectors into its facilities, it will certainly be a positive step."

China has argued for a resumption of six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program. A drop in tension on the Korean peninsula will give it more leeway to pursue this avenue towards peace.

Author: Anne Thomas
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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