- Associated Press - Sunday, December 19, 2010

UNITED NATIONS | World powers trying to defuse tensions between North and South Korea met in an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on Sunday, but disagreed over whether the North should be singled out for criticism over two deadly attacks this year that have helped send relations to their lowest point in decades.

China and Russia, the countries with the closest North Korea ties, have expressed concern about the South Korean military’s plans to conduct one-day, live-fire drills by Tuesday on the same front-line island that the North shelled last month as the South conducted a similar exercise. The United States supports South Korea, a staunch ally, and says any country has a right to train for self-defense.

The North warned of a “catastrophe” if South Korea proceeds with the drills. The reclusive communist government in Pyongyang said it would strike back harder than it did last month, when two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed on Yeonpyeong Island.

South Korea says the drills are routine and defensive in nature and should not be considered threatening.

Russia called for the Security Council meeting. Moscow wants the most powerful U.N. body to adopt a statement calling on North Korea and South Korea “to exercise maximum restraint” and urging immediate diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions.

Russia and China, which are permanent members of the 15-nation council along with the U.S., Britain and France, just want a statement to urge calm and appoint an envoy, but most council members view that as unfairly equating the actions of the two Koreas, said a council diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are taking place in private.

The diplomat said most council members want a statement that condemns North Korea for the Nov. 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong and the March 26 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors and was blamed on a North Korean torpedo.

The council began meeting shortly after 11 a.m. and heard a briefing from U.N. political chief B. Lynn Pascoe on the situation in the Koreas. After four hours, the council was still holding consultations behind closed doors.

In his briefing, Mr. Pascoe echoed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who on Friday called the Nov. 23 attack on the tiny island of Yeonpyeong “one of the gravest provocations since the end of [the] Korean War,” said a council diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the consultations are closed.

Mr. Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, said he is following events closely and is seriously concerned over the rising tensions.

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