- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2010

President Obama and his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak have pledged to hold joint military exercises and enhanced training after North Korea’s military forces fired artillery against a South Korean island, prompting the South’s forces to return fire.

Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee late on Tuesday night to assure him that the U.S. “stands shoulder to shoulder with our close friend and ally” South Korea, the White House said in a statement.

The two presidents agreed to “continue the close security cooperation between our two countries, and to underscore the strength of our alliance and commitment to peace and security in the region,” it added.

Mr. Obama strongly condemned the attack by the North on Yeonpyeoung island that claimed the lives of two South Korean marines and wounded dozens of others. It also set fire to more than 60 buildings and pushed the two Koreas to the brink of war.

Mr. Obama said the North must “stop its provocative actions, which will only lead to further isolation, and fully abide by the terms of the Armistice Agreement and its obligations under international law,” the White House said.

** FILE ** South Korean President Lee Myung-bak attends a briefing at the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul in November 2010  as the military was put on top alert after North Korea's artillery attack on a South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. (Associated Press)
** FILE ** South Korean President Lee Myung-bak attends a briefing at ... more >

Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama met with senior aides to discuss how to respond to the latest crisis over North Korea.

The president was briefed by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, along with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and Army Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of U.S. Forces Korea.

Mr. Obama stressed during the meeting that the U.S. has “unshakable support” for South Korea and “discussed ways to advance peace and security on the Korean Peninsula going forward,” according to the White House.

The aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS George Washington left its home port of Yokosuka on Monday. A Pacific Fleet spokesman in Hawaii said the strike group will remain in the region and await any further tasking from senior leaders.

At the Pentagon, Mr. Gates telephoned his South Korean counterpart, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young, and said the United States regarded the North Korean artillery attack as a violation of the 1953 armistice agreement that ended the Korean War.

The armistice agreement did not lead to a peace treaty and thus both nations remain technically at war.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters that Mr. Gates expressed appreciation for “restraint” shown by Seoul over the attack.

The artillery strike, which began at midafternoon Tuesday on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong off the west coast, killed two South Korean marines and injured dozens of others. It also set fire to more than 60 buildings and pushed the two Koreas to the brink of war.

Dozens of artillery rounds were fired in three separate barrages. South Korea fired about 80 artillery rounds in retaliation.

The island is two miles south of the Northern Limit Line, the disputed sea border that the North does not recognize. South Korean military installations and a small civilian population are on the island.

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