The United Nations Security Council is holding emergency talks to try to defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula, where South Korea is vowing to proceed with a live-fire military exercise, despite threats of retaliation from the North.
Russia called for Sunday's emergency talks in New York to send what it calls a "restraining signal" to the two Koreas, and to "help launch diplomatic activity" aimed at resolving their disputes politically.
South Korea's military says it is determined to carry out the one-day live fire drill on an island near the disputed western maritime border of the two Koreas. It says the exercise on Yeonpyeong island will take place either Monday or Tuesday, depending on when the weather is clearer.
North Korea responded to a previous South Korean live-fire exercise on Yeonpyeong on November 23 by shelling the island, killing four South Koreans.
Pyongyang calls such activity a provocation because it involves artillery fire into waters it claims are North Korean. Seoul says such exercises are defensive. North Korea says a new South Korean live-fire drill in the disputed waters will trigger a disaster.
Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson says his latest talks with North Korean officials in Pyongyang have made "some progress" in trying to resolve what he calls a "very tense" situation.
Speaking from Pyongyang, Richardson told U.S. television network CNN that a North Korean general he met Sunday was receptive to his proposal for setting up a hotline between North and South Korean forces. He said such a hotline would allow both sides to address issues if an incident happens.
Richardson now serves as governor of the U.S. state of New Mexico. He is on a private, four-day mission to Pyongyang to try to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula. That visit is due to end Monday.
Richardson says North Korean general Pak Rim Su also was open to his idea for a military commission to monitor disputes in and around the Yellow Sea. The former U.S. diplomat says a commission would include representatives of the two Koreas and the United States.
General Pak leads North Korean forces in a zone near the inter-Korean border. Richardson described his talks with Pak as "very tough."
South Korea's Yonhap news agency quotes a government official as saying North Korea has raised the preparedness of artillery units near the disputed maritime border.
Richardson welcomed the U.N. Security Council's decision to hold emergency talks on the crisis. He said a strong statement from the Council will provide "political cover" for all sides to avoid aggressive military action.
The foreign ministers of Russia and China discussed the situation on the Korean peninsula by telephone Saturday. Both urged Seoul and Pyongyang to exercise restraint.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.