Video: U.S., S. Korea deploy 'gunboat diplomacy'

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    >> the president of south korea said in a speech today that he had "failed to protect them from last we can's attack by north korea ." even as he spoke, a joint u.s.- south korean military exercise was under way in korean waters, an unmistakable show of course. richard engel has the latest from south korea .

    >> reporter: it's old fashioned gun boat diplomacy. just the presence of the 97,000 ton nuclear powered " uss george washington " aircraft carrier and its strike group is meant to send a blunt message to north korea . stop aggression against the south. and american deterrence isn't just at sea. on a snow covered firing range, american soldiers were testing their bradley fighting vehicles . it's a routine drill. not a sign commanders say the united states is preparing for war. the 28,500 american troops here in south korea have been put on a heightened state of readiness. they've increased surveillance of north korea and commanders here say they are ready to respond to any north korean aggression at a moment's notice. captain a.j. boyle says u.s. troops are mostly waiting, watching and ready.

    >> if given the call, we are ready to help defend the republic of korea .

    >> reporter: the mood among american forces is calm.

    >> i don't think they should be taken out of context.

    >> reporter: but the united states and south korea face a tough balancing accused, containing the often unpredictable north without provoking it. today, the south korean president promised repercussion it is the north attacked again. tough talk. but hours later, south korea canceled an artillery drill. south korea wants to push back, but doesn't want war. richard engel , nbc news, south korea .

msnbc.com news services
updated 11/29/2010 11:55:51 AM ET 2010-11-29T16:55:51

South Korea's military announced provocative new artillery drills on the front-line island shelled in a deadly North Korean attack, then immediately postponed them Monday in a sign of disarray hours after the president vowed to get tough on the North.

Similar live-fire maneuvers by South Korean troops one week earlier triggered the North's bombardment that decimated parts of Yeonpyeong Island, killed four people and drew return fire in a clash that set the region on edge.

The new drills originally planned for Tuesday could have had even higher stakes: South Korean and American warships are currently engaged in separate military exercises in waters to the south.

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Officials at the Joint Chiefs of Staff told The Associated Press on Monday that the latest drills were postponed after the marine unit on the island mistakenly announced them without getting final approval from higher military authorities. The cancellation had nothing to do with North Korea, and the drills will take place later, one official said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing agency rules.

Earlier Monday, President Lee Myung-bak gave his first address to the nation in nearly a week, taking responsibility for failing to protect his citizens, expressing outrage at the North's "ruthlessness" and vowing tough consequences for any future aggression.

Lee has come under withering criticism for what opponents have called lapses in South Korea's response to the attack just eight months after the sinking of a South Korean warship in nearby waters that killed 46 sailors.

Video: Tensions rise amid U.S.-S. Korea war games (on this page)

Lee has been criticized in the media for being weak, and an opinion poll on Monday showed many felt the government had been too restrained. Lee's personal rating has also fallen since the attack, and there have been protests against his response.

About 500 former soldiers and ex-police burned North Korean flags and effigies of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il at a Seoul rally on Monday.

Military maneuvers
Hours after his speech, authorities on Yeonpyeong Island announced new live-fire drills for Tuesday morning, warning residents by loudspeaker to take shelter in underground bunkers well in advance. Another announcement later in the evening said there would be no live-fire exercise.

Meanwhile, a nuclear-powered U.S. supercarrier and a South Korean destroyer carried out joint military exercises in the waters south of the island in a united show of force by the longtime allies.

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Slideshow: Tension in the Koreas (on this page)

Jets roared as they took off from an aircraft carrier as part of drills to exercises to practice air defense, combat warfare and search-and seizure drills, said Rear Adm. Dan Cloyd, commander of the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group.

The militaries carried out the maneuvers off Taean province, 60 miles south of Yeongpyeong and out of range of North Korean artillery.

The third in a series of joint large scale drills since the sinking of the South's Cheonan warship in March, the U.S. military said the exercise was defensive in nature and demonstrated U.S. commitment to regional security.

Tokyo said it too would stage a joint drill with the United States off Japan from Friday.

Lee paid a visit Monday to the U.S. Army's command center in Seoul to observe the drills, along with Gen. Walter Sharp, the top commander in South Korea, in a pointed show of unity.

"This exercise demonstrates our interoperability and how closely integrated the ROK-US forces are along with the capability both bring in defense of the peninsula that is the cornerstone of regional stability," Sharp said in a statement posted by the military.

WikiLeaks on regional issues
Amid the heightened tension, classified U.S. State Department documents leaked Sunday by online whistle-blower WikiLeaks showed the United States and South Korea discussing possible scenarios for reunification of the peninsula, and American worry over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

South Korea considered commercial inducements to China to "help salve" Chinese concerns about living with a reunified Korea, according to the American ambassador to Seoul, the newspaper said.

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Under pressure to take stronger action in dealing with the defiant North, Lee lashed out at Pyongyang on Monday.

"Only a few meters (yards) away from where shells landed, there is a school where classes were going on," Lee said. "I am outraged by the ruthlessness of the North Korean regime, which is even indifferent to the lives of little children."

In the past week, Lee has replaced his defense minister, ordered reinforcements for the 4,000 troops on Yeonpyeong and four other Yellow Sea islands, and upgraded the military rules of engagement.

"If the North commits any additional provocations against the South, we will make sure that it pays a dear price without fail," Lee warned.

Video: Korea tensions put Beijing in a bind (on this page)

Minutes later, North Korea issued another threat to attack South Korea and the United States, calling the allies' joint war drills "yet another grave military provocation."

The two Koreas are required to abide by an armistice signed in 1953 at the close of their brutal, three-year war.

However, North Korea does not recognize the maritime border drawn by the U.N. at the close of the war, and considers the waters around Yeonpyeong Island — just 7 miles from its shores — its territory.

Deliberate provocation
Pyongyang had warned last week that it would consider any South Korean drills off Yeonpyeong Island a deliberate provocation and territorial violation, and urged Seoul to call off last week's exercises. The artillery attack that came after South Korea went ahead with its drills killed four and injured 18 people. 

Clashes in disputed waters off the west coast are not uncommon, with dozens of sailors killed and warships sunk over the past 11 years, as well as last week's artillery attack and the sinking of the Cheonan warship.

But Tuesday's attack on Yeonpyeong was the first time a residential area had suffered a direct hit. Of the four killed, two were civilians.

Yeonpyeong Island, normally home to about 1,300 civilian residents, was declared a special security area Monday, which could pave the way for a forced evacuation of those left on the island.

Military trucks carrying what appeared to be multiple rocket launchers were seen heading to a marine base on the island Monday.

Long-range artillery guns and a half-dozen K-9 howitzers were also on their way, the Yonhap news agency reported, citing unnamed military officials.

Slideshow: The life of Kim Jong ll (on this page)

China has proposed emergency talks amid global pressure on Beijing to be more aggressive in helping resolve the standoff between the rival Koreas and try to rein in ally Pyongyang which depends on China for aid.

Seoul, which wants proof of Pyongyang's commitment to denuclearization as well as a show of regret over the Cheonan incident, reacted coolly to the proposal. 

And Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said on Monday it would be "unacceptable" to resume six-party talks now.

"It's unacceptable for us to hold six-party talks only because North Korea has gone amok," the Wall Street Journal's online edition quoted Maehara as saying in an interview. "We must first see some kind of sincere effort from North Korea, on its uranium enrichment programme and the latest incident."

The reclusive North was previously offered massive aid in return for disarmament pledges that went unmet.

'We've been here before'
Yeonpyeong Island was a charred, wrecked shell of the former fishing village it was before last week's artillery attack. Only 300 people were left, including a few residents, many more journalists, and some officials.

Among the last to leave were a band of orphaned dogs, rescued Monday by animal rights activists. One puppy with floppy ears peeked out of a rescuer's backpack while being carried across a plank onto the boat to the mainland.

In Seoul, life and business went on as normal. Authorities lifted a ban on South Korean travel to the joint Kaesung industrial complex in North Korea for the day.

"It feels a little more strained than previous occasions, but we've been here before," said Tom Brown, 42, a Briton working for the Tesco supermarket chain in Seoul. "It's just saber-rattling ... there's not much point in worrying too much."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Interactive: North Korea attack

Photos: Tension in the Koreas

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  1. A South Korean border guard mans a post through a fence draped with re-unification ribbons near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, on Dec. 22, 2010. South Korea vowed Wednesday to "punish the enemy" as hundreds of troops, fighter jets, tanks and attack helicopters prepared massive new drills near the heavily armed border a month after a deadly North Korean artillery attack. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A North Korean defector takes part in a candle light vigil on the eve of the one month anniversary of the North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong Island in downtown Seoul, South Korea, on Dec. 22. (Ng Han Guan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A combination of photos shows North Korean soldiers taking part in a shooting exercise at a field in Kaepoong county, on the north side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, in this picture taken from south of the DMZ in Paju, about 31 miles north of Seoul, on Dec. 22. (Jo Yong-hak / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. South Korean soldiers patrol a seashore in Dangjin, about 120 km 75 miles south of Seoul on December 21. (Yonhap / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Bae Bok-soon (R), an older sister of Bae Bok-chul, cries during the funeral for the two civilians who died when North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island on November 23, in Incheon, west of Seoul on De. 6. (Jo Yong-hak / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Crew members watch as an F/A-18E Super Hornet lands on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington during a naval exercise with South Korea in the Yellow Sea on Tuesday, Nov. 30. The drills come amid heightened tension in the region after a North Korean artillery attack on South Korea's Yeonpyeong island last week. (Park Ji-hwan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Staff watch radar screens in the Combat Direction Center on the USS George Washington during the military drills off South Korea. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Former South Korean special agents whose mission was to infiltrate North Korea, sing a military song during a rally on the Yeonpyeong island, South Korea. About 85 former agents, who criticized the North's attack and urged the South Korean government to punish Pyongyang, landed the island Nov. 30 and said they would stay for a week to help with reconstruction. (Lee Jin-man / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. South Korean marines await navy ships carrying military equipment on Yeonpyeong island on Tuesday, Nov. 30. (Yonhap / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. North Korean defectors and anti-North Korea activists release balloons for North Korea containing $1,000 in $1 notes and anti-North Korean leaflets in Paju, north of Seoul. (Jo Yong-hak / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. South Korean middle school students learn how to use a gas mask in a mock chemical attack in Seoul. (Ahn Young-joon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. During a rally denouncing last week's bombardment, Korea Freedom Federation members shout outside the Chinese Embassy in Seoul on Nov. 29. (Ahn Young-joon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. South Korean marines watch President Lee Myung-Bak's news conference on a television minitor on Yeonpyeong island on Nov. 29. Lee condemned North Korea's recent shelling of the South Korean border island, calling an attack against civilians an "inhumane" crime. (Jeon Heon-Kyun / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. South Korean ships stage off the coast of South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 28 as war drills by the United States and South Korea began. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. South Korean protesters hold candles during a rally in Seoul opposing the military exercise between South Korea and the United States. (Park Ji-hwan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. South Korean women take cover inside a bomb shelter on Yeonpyeong Island after authorities sounded the alarm over a possible North Korean rocket attack on Nov. 28. It proved to be a false alarm. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A North Korean soldier, right, looks back as she and another soldier patrol on a pathway along the bank of the Yalu River near Sinuiju, North Korea, Nov. 28. (Andy Wong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A South Korean police car is reflected in the shattered glass of a restaurant window along a seaside road on Yeonpyeong island on Nov. 27. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Former South Korean marines burn images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, right, and his son Kim Jong Un, during a rally Nov. 27 in Seoul. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Kim Oh-bock, mother of Seo Jung-woo, a South Korean marine killed in the Nov. 23 North Korean bombardment, cries as she holds his casket during a funeral service Nov. 27 at a military hospital in Seongnam. (Ahn Young-joon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. South Korean marines carry flag-draped caskets of two comrades during a funeral service Nov. 27 in Seongnam. (Ahn Young-joon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The mother of South Korean marine Moon Kwang-wook, another marine killed by North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong Island, cries Nov. 27 at her son's funeral. (Kim Kyung-hoon / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. South Korean protesters denouncing North Korean attack on an island close to the border between the two nations burn a North Korean flag in Seoul on Nov. 24. After North Korea's strike, South Korea and the United States said they would launch four-day naval exercises in the Yellow Sea involving an American aircraft carrier. (Jung Yeon-Je / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. South Korean protesters trample on a picture of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il in Seoul on Nov. 24. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A Buddhist monk shouts slogans with protesters at a rally denouncing North Korea in Seoul on Nov. 24. (Truth Leem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A man walks past a house wrecked by artillery shells fired by North Korea on Yeonpyeong island, Nov. 24. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Destroyed houses are seen on Yeonpyeong island on Nov. 24. (Dong-A Ilbo / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. South Korean survivors react upon their arrival at a port in Incheon, west of Seoul, South Korea on Nov. 24. (Lee Jin-man / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. A destroyed house is seen on Nov. 24 after it was hit by artillery shells fired by North Korea on Yeonpyeong Island. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. South Korean marines, who were injured when North Korean artillery shelled Yeonpyeong island, sit on beds at a military hospital in Seongnam on Nov. 24. (Yonhap / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. South Korean residents take shelter from North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong island, South Korea, Nov. 24. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. People stand near destroyed houses on Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea, Nov. 24. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. South Korean police officers load relief supplies for villagers of Yeonpyeong Island, at a port in Incheon, west of Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 24. (Lee Jin-man / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. South Korean residents take shelter from North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong island on Nov. 23. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. South Korean Red Cross workers load relief supplies bound for Yeonpyeong Island at a port in Incheon, west of Seoul, Nov. 24. (Yonhap / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. A resident of the Yeonpyeong Island arrives at Incheon port, South Korea, on Nov. 23. (Kim Chul-soo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. A picture taken off television shows the moment of impact of one of the artillery shells fired by North Korea onto the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. (Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. This picture taken by a South Korean tourist shows huge plumes of smoke rising from Yeonpyeong Island in the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea on Nov. 23. North Korea fired dozens of artillery shells onto the South Korean island, killing two people, setting homes ablaze and triggering retaliatory fire by the South. It was one of the most serious clashes between the two sides in decades. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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