The United States and South Korea are finishing war manoeuvres aimed at North Korea after a deadly attack and discussing whether to hold more, as China tried to restart the aid-for-nuclear-disarmament talks coveted by the North.
Beijing is pressing for an emergency meeting in coming days to discuss ways to ease tensions embroiling the region after the North Korean artillery attack on a front-line island that killed four South Koreans and wounded 18 others on November 23.
But Washington, Tokyo and Seoul are wary of talking with the North.
Beijing wants talks among the six nations who have negotiated over North Korea’s nuclear programme – the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the United States.
After walking away from the six-nation talks in April 2009, Pyongyang has shown it is now eager to restart them to gain much-needed fuel oil and aid in exchange for nuclear disarmament.
Seoul has reacted coolly, saying North Korea must show real commitment to disarm and noting that the North has gone in the wrong direction with its revelation late last month of a new uranium enrichment facility that would give North Korea a second way to make nuclear bombs.
South Korea’s drills with the US involving a nuclear-powered supercarrier in western waters south of the disputed border were set to end Wednesday.
The drills were largely aimed at testing communications systems and did not have live fire, but North Korea expressed its fury over them.
A South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said that Seoul and Washington are discussing whether to conduct new joint military drills this month or early next month.
The officer would only say that the drills would take place off South Korea’s west coast. South Korea’s military separately plans what it calls routine week-long naval live-fire exercises from 29 sites next week.