- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2010

World leaders focused attention on North Korea on Monday, as an International Criminal Court prosecutor opened a war-crimes investigation into the reclusive country’s recent military strikes and as U.S., Japanese and South Korean officials conferred at the State Department.

Meanwhile, South Korean forces on Monday continued to conduct military exercises near the disputed maritime border with North Korea, despite warnings from Pyongyang that the drills threaten to increase tensions in the wake of the North’s shelling of a South Korean island two weeks ago.

At the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan. They agreed that North Korea’s behavior jeopardizes peace in Asia and said they would not resume six-party talks with Pyongyang until it makes a sincere effort to mend relations with Seoul and complies with international obligations to roll back its nuclear program.

“Six-party talks cannot substitute for action by North Korea to comply with its obligations,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters after the meeting. “They need to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose in ending their provocations and let the world know they are now ready to come to the table and fulfill the commitments that they have already made.”

The officials said the North must take concrete steps to demonstrate a “genuine commitment to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.”

The joint position is an outright rejection of calls by China for an emergency session of the six-party talks.

“We first need an appropriate basis for a resumption of talks,” Mrs. Clinton said.

China’s foreign minister was not invited to participate in the talks on Monday.

In a phone conversation with President Obama on Sunday night, Chinese President Hu Jintao pushed back against U.S. pressure and warned that the situation could escalate out of control if not properly handled.

Mr. Obama urged Mr. Hu to send a clear message to North Korea that its actions are unacceptable, the White House said in a statement.

At the International Criminal Court at The Hague, prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said his office has begun a preliminary war-crimes investigation into North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23 and the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March, the Associated Press reported.

The artillery attack killed two South Korean marines and two civilians, and the Cheonan’s sinking killed 46 South Korean sailors. An international investigation determined that a North Korean torpedo fired from a submarine sank the ship, but Pyongyang has denied any involvement in the sinking.

The artillery attack was the heaviest since the Korean War ended with a cease-fire agreement in 1953. It also resulted in the first civilian deaths in an assault since the bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula also have risen over North Korea’s once-covert uranium-enrichment program, which was presented recently to three visiting U.S. nuclear specialists.

In a joint written statement, the U.S., South Korea and Japan condemned North Korea’s construction of the enrichment facility, saying it violates U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874, as well as the North’s commitments in a September 2005 agreement with the other parties to the six-party talks.

Mrs. Clinton said the North has chosen a path of “confrontation and isolation.”

But she held open the possibility of a better future if the North makes the “right choices.”

U.S. officials have been pressing China to condemn the North’s provocative behavior.

When asked why it had taken so long to arrange the call between Mr. Obama and Mr. Hu, White House deputy spokesman Bill Burton told reporters both men had “pretty busy schedules.”

Mr. Obama urged Mr. Hu to “work with us and others to send a clear message to North Korea that its provocations are unacceptable,” the White House said.

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