U.S. President Barack Obama has told his South Korean counterpart that the United States stands "shoulder to shoulder" with it following the North's shelling of a South Korean island with the loss of four lives.
The White House called the November 23 attack on Yeonpyeong Island outrageous but is seeking a diplomatic rather than military solution.
As a first key step, the officials say the Obama administration is pressuring China to do more to restrain its North Korean ally from further aggressive behavior.
China is the secretive Pyongyang regime's only real supporter, and it supplies the impoverished state with food, arms, and much else. During the present shelling incident, Beijing has so far refrained from direct criticism of the North, and the official Chinese press has tended to accept the North’s version of events.
Obama, in condemning the North's action, specifically referred to the need for China's help to reduce the North's periodic outbursts, which have a destabilizing affect across northeast Asia.
The officials in Washington indicate that the United States is moving to develop a long-term strategy that would involve its partners in the six-party talks on North Korean denuclearization.
"Moving forward, we're going to take a measured and unified approach," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner explains. "We're going to work with China, we're going to work with all our six-party partners on our response. But again, just to stress, it's going to be a measured and unified response."
Officials, as reported by The Associated Press, say the White House is determined to end the cycle of events which they say rewards North Korea's “brinksmanship,” its willingness to use provocative actions to wring further concessions from the international community.
Japan, a member of the six-party talks, is also seeking a multilateral solution.
"Japan will work closely with South Korea as well as the United States to handle the situation," Prime Minister Naoto Kan said at an emergency cabinet meeting today in Tokyo. "We also plan to reach out to China, a country with bigger influence on North Korea, and seek their stance on the North's attack."
But military moves are not being forgotten in the push for diplomacy. The United States says it will hold naval exercise with South Korea in the coming days and is moving an aircraft carrier into Korean waters for them.
The North, meanwhile, is blaming the steep rise in tensions on Seoul, saying the South's forces started the shelling on November 23 first. The official KCNA news agency said South Korea is guilty of "reckless military provocation” and”driving the situation to the brink of war.”
compiled from agency reports