South Korea conducted live-fire military drills near its disputed sea boundary with North Korea Monday, despite Pyongyang's threat to respond with a "merciless" attack.
North Korea did not carry out the threat as it focuses on internal stability two months after the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il and prepares for nuclear disarmament talks with the United States later this week. But with American forces scheduled to conduct additional military exercises with ally South Korea over the next few months, tensions are expected to remain high in the region.
In an effort to bring Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program through economic pain, both the U.S. and the European Union have imposed sanctions that should make it harder for Iran to sell its oil. But the global oil business is unpredictable, and sanctions are no guarantee.
North Korea's attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong comes during a difficult period for the isolated regime in Pyongyang.
It is going through a process of political succession, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il seeking to ensure that his son Kim Jong Un is the country's next leader. At the same time, North Korea is facing new food shortages. In the past, weakness and uncertainty have sparked provocations like the Nov. 23 attack.
China resisted U.S. pressure to condemn North Korea on Wednesday, a day after Pyongyang shelled a South Korea-held island, killing four people and ratcheting tensions on the peninsula to new highs.
Late Wednesday, China issued its first official statement, which was notable for its failure to condemn or even criticize North Korea. Instead, a foreign ministry spokesman urged both Koreas to show calm and restraint, and to engage in talks.