South Korea said it plans an artillery drill on Yeonpyeong, the island struck by shelling from its communist neighbor last month after live-fire practice.
The drill will take place sometime between Dec. 18 and Dec. 21 and about 20 U.S. military personnel will help, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in an e-mailed statement today.
North Korea has said the South’s Nov. 23 exercise, which it responded to with a barrage that killed four people, was a “reckless military provocation.” The state-run Korean Central News Agency on Dec. 5 warned of “catastrophic consequences” to South Korean plans for live-firing drills.
U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said North Korea has no reason to see them as provocative. “These are routine exercises,” Crowley said. “There’s nothing provocative or unusual or threatening about these exercises. The North Koreans have been notified about what South Korea plans to do.”
Crowley said the planned drill “is a perfectly legitimate step” by South Korea.
“It won’t be easy for North Korea to make the same strong, provocative reaction as the last time,” said Kim Yong Hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. “China is pressuring North Korea, and if there’s a second provocation, it’ll make it make it harder for them to start dialogue with the U.S. and the international community.”
Bill Richardson, the Democratic governor of New Mexico and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, arrived in Pyongyang today, according to a one-sentence dispatch from KCNA. Richardson’s trip is “a private visit,” Crowley said on Dec. 8, adding that the governor wasn’t “carrying any particular message from the United States government.”
In a separate statement today, KCNA said North Korea is open to all proposals for denuclearization talks but won’t “beg” for dialogue.
North Korea’s uranium enrichment and construction of a light-water reactor are for peaceful purposes, KCNA cited a spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry as saying.
North Korea’s firing on the Yeonpyeong fishing community and military outpost last month was the first shelling of South Korean soil since the 1950-1953 war. The North doesn’t recognize the western sea border demarcated by the United Nations after the war and demands it should be drawn further south to include Yeonpyeong and four neighboring islands in North Korean waters.
“The military clash on the island was sparked off entirely due to the reckless military provocation on the part of the U.S. and the South Korean puppet forces,” KCNA said today.
South Korea’s defense minister, Kim Kwan Jin, has vowed retaliation that would include air strikes in response to a new North Korean attack.
Dongguk University’s Kim said North Korea was likely to respond to South Korea’s artillery drills this time with “verbal bombs” or possibly its own live-fire exercises around the western sea border.