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South Korea launches fresh round of military drills as North Korea seems to soften

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The military exercises have been planned since last year, but they come at a sensitive time. Monday, South Korea held live-fire exercises on Yeonpyeong Island, located off the western coast of the peninsula, where the maritime border between the two nations is disputed. Last month, North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island, killing four people, after a similar exercise by the South. The North threatened “brutal consequences beyond imagination” if the South went through with the drill, but it backed down and didn't retaliate.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that many in the South saw the lack of reaction from the North as a bluff intended to extract concessions and appease the international community. The North also made a pledge Tuesday to an unofficial US envoy, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, to allow inspectors to visit its nuclear sites, but the move was quickly dismissed by US officials. Reuters reports that White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said “the action must come not from their words, but from their deeds.” He said the US would not move to resume six-party talks with the North about its nuclear program until the North changes its behavior.

An editorial in The Korea Times argues that while the South is correct to suspect the sincerity of the North’s pledge, it should seize the opportunity for a “diplomatic counterattack,” sending the ball back to the North’s court by “accepting the dialogue offer and including the inspection of uranium power plants in inspection targets.”

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