U.S. Says It's Committed to Defend SKorea, Vows More Joint Drills

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The top U.S. military officer on Wednesday warned North Korea that the U.S. commitment to helping South Korea defend itself is "unquestioned," even as he pressed China to use its influence to push its ally Pyongyang to change.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called recent North Korean aggression, including an artillery attack last month that killed four South Koreans, "belligerent, reckless behavior." He said China appeared unwilling to use its enormous leverage to rein in the North.

"China has unique influence. Therefore, they bear unique responsibility," Mullen said. "Now is the time for Beijing to step up to that responsibility and help guide the North, and the entire region, toward a better future."

Mullen warned that North Korea should not mistake South Korean restraint as a lack of resolve. "Nor should they interpret it as willingness to accept continued attacks," Mullen said at a joint news conference with his South Korean counterpart, Gen. Han Min-koo, after the two met in Seoul.

"Your readiness to defend your territory and your citizens is unmistakable, and my country's commitment to helping you do that is unquestioned," Mullen said.

Mullen noted that with the 46 sailors killed in the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, there have been "50 deaths by DPRK hands," referring to North Korea by its formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Mullen vowed to hold more joint drills with South Korea to deter North Korean aggression.

South Korea and the United States staged drills last week off the west coast of the peninsula in response to North Korea's Nov. 23 artillery barrage on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island near the Koreas' disputed sea border.

The drills "sent a strong signal of our intent to deter future acts of aggression," Mullen said.

While the officers met earlier Wednesday, North Korea staged apparent firing exercises.

North Korean shells landed in the country's own waters north of South Korea's Baengnyeong island, a South Korean military official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing military rules.

North Korea also carried out an apparent military exercise within sight of Yeonpyeong Island last month following the artillery assault on the same island. Artillery shots were heard three days later as Gen. Walter Sharp, the top U.S. commander in South Korea, toured the island in a show of solidarity with Seoul and to survey damage.

The Nov. 23 attack — the first since the 1950-53 Korean War to target a civilian area — killed two South Korean marines and two construction workers, and reduced many homes and shops to charred rubble.

Han called the attack a violation of the U.N. charter and armistice signed at the close of the war.

He said South Korea and the U.S. will quickly complete a plan to deal with North Korea's provocations, which he said have become bolder.

"If North Korea were to additionally provoke us, we will respond in a very firm manner out of self-defense, and North Korea will have to pay a very deep price for the additional provocation," Han said.(AP)

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