Page last updated at 10:46 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

'US envoy to N Korea' after clash

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton wants North Korea to return to nuclear disarmament talks

A naval clash between the two Koreas has not put off a US plan to send an envoy to North Korea, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said.

Mrs Clinton said that Stephen Bosworth would still travel to North Korea to try to persuade it to return to nuclear disarmament talks.

Boats from the two Koreas exchanged fire for several minutes near their disputed maritime border on Tuesday.

Mr Bosworth's visit is expected before the end of the year, US officials said.

'Important Step'

The row comes days before US President Barack Obama is to visit Asia with North Korea expected to be high on his agenda.

But Mrs Clinton, speaking at a news conference on the sidelines of an Apec meeting in Singapore, said: "This does not in any way affect the decision to send Ambassador Bosworth.

"We think that this is an important step that stands on its own."

South Korean naval patrol boats (archive picture)
1996: A North Korean submarine runs aground in South Korean waters
1998: South Korea captures a North Korean mini-submarine in its waters
1999: At least 17 North Korean sailors believed killed in naval fire fight
2002: Four South Korean sailors and an estimated 30 North Koreans killed in a naval battle

Mrs Clinton said Mr Bosworth's mission was not to negotiate with the North but to convince it to return to stalled six-party talks on ending its nuclear programme.

North Korea withdrew from the talks - also involving South Korea, the US, China, Japan and Russia -earlier this year.

South Korean officials said none of their troops had been hurt, while the North's boat had been set ablaze before it sailed away.

Navies from the two sides last engaged in deadly exchanges along their western sea border in 1999 and 2002.

In response to the latest clash, South Korea has sent two more warships to guard the disputed area.

But South Korean military commanders denied reports that two North Korean vessels had approached the area where the exchange of fire took place.

South Korea recognises the Northern Limit Line, drawn unilaterally by the US-led United Nations Command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korea has never accepted the line.

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