N.Korea says won’t react to South drill

YEONPYEONG, South Korea, (Reuters) – North Korea said   it would not react to military drills staged by the South near   their disputed border today and, easing tension further,   CNN reported that Pyongyang had agreed to the return of   nuclear inspectors.
The mercurial North had threatened to strike back if its   neighbour went ahead with the live-fire exercise, but hours   after the artillery barrage ended said it was “not worth” a   military response.
“We felt it was not worth reacting one-by-one to military   provocations,” the official KCNA news agency quoted the   North’s Korean People’s Army Supreme Command as saying.
A diplomatic breakthrough looked possible after a report   that North Korea told U.S. troubleshooter Bill Richardson it   would accept the resumption of international inspections of   its nuclear programme.
Today’s drill lasted just over 90 minutes, with   near-constant artillery fire that shook air-raid bunkers on   the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong.
“I can’t exactly tell how many have been fired, some are   distant and some are noisy. The bunker is shaking and people   here are worried, including myself,” said a Reuters witness on   the island.
On Nov. 23, the last time Seoul conducted firing drills   from Yeonpyeong close to the disputed maritime border off the   west coast of the Korean peninsula, Pyongyang retaliated by   shelling the island, killing four people, in the worst attack   on South Korean territory since the Korean war ended in 1953.
The marines’ exercise came hours after a U.N. Security   Council meeting on the Korean peninsula crisis ended in   deadlock, with Russia and China resisting an explicit   condemnation of the North for last month’s attack.
New Mexico Governor Richardson, visiting Pyongyang to try   to ease tension, won agreement from North Korea to allow U.N.   nuclear inspectors to return, according to CNN which has a   team travelling with him.
Pyongyang “agreed to allow International Atomic Energy   Agency personnel to return to a nuclear facility in the   country and agreed to negotiate the sale of 12,000 … fuel   rods and ship them to an outside country, presumably to South   Korea”, CNN said, quoting correspondent Wolf Blitzer in   Pyongyang.
“The North has also agreed to consider Richardson’s   proposal for a military commission between the United States,   North Korea and South Korea as well as a separate hotline for   the Koreas’ militaries.”
The South Korean Foreign Ministry said it could not   confirm the agreement.
“We do not have the specific details yet, so it is too   early to make an official evaluation,” a spokesman said.
Richardson was visiting in an unofficial capacity, the   traditional means of communication between the two sides, but   it was unclear whether the reported agreement would ease   tension, particularly given Pyongyang’s poor record of   honouring deals.
North Korea expelled inspectors in April 2009 after   ripping up a previous disarmament-for-aid agreement.
“It means that they are prepared to give up, at least in   part, the plutonium programme, which has been the source of   the fuel rods they came up with,” said North Korea expert Kim   Yong-hyun of Dongguk University. “It would be considerable   progress, if true.”
However, North Korea last month unveiled major technical   progress in uranium enrichment, suggesting another reason it   could be willing to end the plutonium programme.
So while North Korea’s offers could indicate that, after   months of military grandstanding, it is bending to   international pressure, they may amount to little more than an   empty conciliatory gesture.
Tension ahead of the military drills initially hit Korean   markets when they opened on Monday, with the won   falling nearly 2 percent to a four-week low against the dollar   and stocks also down 1 percent in early trade.
But shares recouped most of their losses to close down   just 0.3 percent, slightly outperforming the region as a   whole, while the won ended local trade higher against the   dollar. Some dealers cited the tension as a factor helping   push gold up by 1 percent on international markets.
Yesterday’s announcement that Seoul would impose a levy on   the foreign debt of banks from late 2011 also weighed on   markets. The move was Seoul’s latest attempt to discourage too   much speculative hot money flowing into South Korean assets, a   reminder that local markets are bullish despite the tension.
“The fact that foreign investors are continuing to buy   comes as a reassuring sign,” said Kwak Joon-bo, analyst at   Samsung Securities. “Unless North Korea takes actions that are   akin to its artillery shelling of the island, the market will   be relatively calm.”

Both sides have said they will use force to defend what   they say is their territory off the west coast, raising   international concern that the standoff could quickly spiral   out of control.
Yonhap news agency quoted military officials as saying   shells fired in the drill would land more than 10 km (6 miles)   from the maritime border. But Pyongyang disputes the border   and said last week it would be a suicidal provocation for   Seoul to hold the exercise.
“The South Korean puppet warmongers going in league with   outside forces are getting ever more frantic in their moves   for a war of aggression… pushing the situation to the brink   of a war,” the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper said earlier today.
Wang Min, China’s representative at the Security Council   meeting, warned that “the situation on the Korean peninsula is   perilous” and defended China’s approach to the crisis.
Russia had called yesterday’s emergency Security Council   meeting to try to prevent an escalation, but major powers   failed to agree on a draft statement because of differences   over whether to lay the blame on Pyongyang.
“The gaps that remain are unlikely to be bridged,” said   Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Other council diplomats, however, said it was possible the   council could return to the issue as early as today.
Western diplomats said China and Russia were pushing for   an ambiguous statement that would not have blamed North Korea   for the crisis, but would have called on both sides to   exercise restraint. Rice said the “vast majority” of council   members did not want an ambiguous statement.

Around the Web