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US Calls North Korean Artillery Strike Armistice Violation

Smoke billow from Yeonpyeong island near the border against North Korea, in South Korea, 23 Nov 2010

Smoke billow from Yeonpyeong island near the border against North Korea, in South Korea, 23 Nov 2010

The United States said Wednesday North Korea's lethal artillery strike on a South Korean island was premeditated and a violation of the 1953 Korean War armistice. But U.S. officials do not believe Pyongyang is preparing for an extended military campaign.

Officials here are not minimizing the seriousness of the North Korean artillery barrage, which they call a serious provocation and a deliberate violation of the Korean armistice.

But they say they are not observing preparations for a broader conflict by North Korea, and say they are looking to China to play a "pivotal" role in restraining its neighbor.

State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters the United States is engaged in wide-ranging diplomacy with China and others in the aftermath of the artillery clash, and intends to raise the matter directly with North Korea in the armistice framework.

The spokesman rejected North Korea's claim it acted in self defense after South Korean shelling in a military exercise. He said North Korea attacked the South Korean island hours after the routine exercise ended, in an obviously premeditated act, but that there has been no sign of a broader aggressive move by the North.

"This was in our view a one-off, premeditated act," said Crowley. "Without getting into intelligence matters, we don't see that North Korea is preparing for an extended military confrontation. That's what makes it not a war. It is a violation of the armistice. Among other things, we will have a conversation with North Korean general officers and make clear that this is a violation of the armistice."

Crowley said responsibility for the current crisis "rests exclusively" with North Korea, and the United States recognizes that China - despite being its main ally and aid provider - cannot dictate to Pyongyang.

Nonetheless he said Beijing has influence with North Korea, and the United States expects China to clear as to where the blame rests, and that Pyongyang should not be allowed to derive comfort from thus-far ambivalent Chinese statements on the issue.

President Obama late Tuesday announced U.S.-South Korean military exercises in the wake of the artillery attack, that will include dispatch of the nuclear aircraft carrier George Washington to waters off the Korean peninsula.

China has previously opposed such exercises but Crowley said they contribute to stability for the entire region including China.

"We have a military alliance with South Korea and we will continue to do what we need to do with South Korea to cooperate," he said. "Our alliance with South Korea provides stability and protection, and many, many countries, including China, benefit from the alliance that we have with South Korea and others in the region."

The spokesman said the United States is engaged in broad diplomatic consultations on both the artillery incident and recent claimed advances in North Korea's nuclear program.

Crowley said there have been preliminary contacts in the U.N. Security Council, but there is no indication an emergency council session is being sought.