Tags: Koreas | US | envoy | koreas | obama

As Obama Heads To Asia, Tensions Between Koreas Escalate

Wednesday, 11 Nov 2009 09:29 PM


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea deployed additional warships near a disputed sea border with North Korea on Wednesday after the countries’ most serious naval clash in seven years. But the United States said the skirmish would not deter it from sending an envoy to North Korea.

The deployment by South Korea came as its defense minister, Kim Tae-young, told lawmakers that President Lee Myung-bak was concerned about the possibility of retaliation by North Korea. After the two-minute clash on Tuesday, a North Korean patrol boat was engulfed in flames and smoke, while a South Korean naval vessel was only lightly damaged, South Korean officials said.

Hours later, the United States said that President Obama had decided to accept a North Korean invitation to send an envoy to North Korea’s capital to try to resolve disputes over the North’s nuclear weapons program. Analysts here said that with Mr. Obama scheduled to visit the region later this week, the North Koreans might have intended to use the skirmish to strengthen their negotiating leverage.

The clash “does not in any way affect our decision” to send the American envoy, Stephen Bosworth, to North Korea, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Singapore on Wednesday. “We think it is an important step that stands on its own.”

Mr. Bosworth’s trip would represent the beginning of bilateral talks, a format that North Korea has coveted, and would be the Obama administration’s first direct dialogue with North Korea. Among Mr. Bosworth’s goals will be bringing the North Koreans back to six-nation nuclear disarmament talks, which the North quit earlier this year, American officials said.

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