- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2009

SINGAPORE | Amid rising tension between North and South Korea after a naval skirmish, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday urged calm and said diplomatic efforts to resolve the nuclear standoff with the North would continue.

As the South placed its military on heightened alert and warned it was ready to deter any retaliation by the North, Mrs. Clinton said Tuesday’s incident would not affect the Obama administration’s decision to send a special envoy to Pyongyang “in the near future.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Singapore, Mrs. Clinton said the envoy, Stephen Bosworth, would go to the North as planned to try to persuade the communist nation to return to stalled six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.

“We are certainly counseling calm and caution when it comes to any kind of dispute … but at the same time we are moving ahead with our planned visit for Ambassador Bosworth,” she said.

“We think that it is an important step that stands on its own,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters at a solo press conference.

The talks will be the first between the U.S. and North Korea since President Obama took office in January. The two nations, which fought on opposite sides in the 1950-53 Korean War, do not have diplomatic relations.

“We have made the purpose and parameters of this visit clear to the North Koreans,” Mrs. Clinton said. “This is not a negotiation. It is an effort to pave the way toward North Korea’s return to the six-party process.”

North Korea quit the negotiations earlier this year in anger over international criticism of its nuclear and missile programs, but has reached out to Washington in recent months with calls for bilateral talks.

The Obama administration has said it is open to holding direct talks if they lead to a resumption of the disarmament negotiations. U.S. officials confirmed that Mr. Bosworth would most likely meet with North Korean officials before the end of the year.

The two-minute exchange of gunfire between North and South Korean warships at the Koreas’ disputed maritime border reportedly left one North Korean sailor dead and three wounded. The South Korean military reported no casualties and said the North Korean ship was on fire and heavily damaged when it retreated.

Each side blamed the other for the clash in a rich crab-fishing area off the countries’ west coast, where North and South regularly accuse each other of violating the disputed border. Deadly skirmishes in the area also occurred in 1999 and 2002.

Tuesday’s skirmish occurred just hours before confirmation from Washington that Mr. Obama, who will be visiting Japan and South Korea in the coming days, had decided to accept the North Korean invitation to receive his envoy.

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