November 26th, 2010
Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- Tensions between the Koreas remained high Friday as China appeared to criticize the U.S.-South Korean military exercise set to begin Sunday in the Yellow Sea off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula.
"We oppose any party to take any military acts in our exclusive economic zone without permission," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
He said that international law of the sea says that an exclusive economic zone stretches 200 nautical miles from the coast.
The United States is sending the aircraft carrier USS George Washington to join South Korea's forces near the coasts of China and North Korea in the four-day drill. It is set to begin five days after North Korea shelled a South Korean island, killing four South Koreans and wounding 15 others.
North Korea said the South provoked the attack because shells from a South Korean military drill landed in the North's waters. South Korea was holding its annual Hoguk military drill when the North started its shelling.
Xinhua quoted Chinese scholars who also criticized the planned drill by U.S. and South Korean (Republic of Korea) forces. "The United States and ROK should not take sensitive and provocative military actions at such a sensitive time and place," said Major General Luo Yuan, a researcher with the Chinese People's Liberation Army's Military Science Academy.
He likened the planned exercise to "pouring oil onto flames."
But China, North Korea's largest trading partner, also called for an easing of tensions. "As the Korean Peninsula situation is highly complicated and sensitive, all parties concerned should stay calm and exercise restraint," Hong said.
The United States has looked to China to exert its influence on North Korea to ratchet back tensions in the region.
But there was no indication that plan was working. North Korea continued its war rhetoric, saying Friday that South Korea and the United States are recklessly pushing the Korean peninsula toward war by scheduling the joint military drill to begin this weekend.
"The situation on the Korean peninsula is inching closer to the brink of war due to the reckless plan of those trigger-happy elements to stage again the war exercises targeted against [North Korea] in wake of the grave military provocation they perpetrated against the territorial waters of [the North Korean] side in the West Sea," said the North's official KCNA news agency.
The West Sea, part of the Yellow Sea that is nearest to the Koreas, was the scene of Tuesday's shelling.
"The army and people of [North Korea] are now greatly enraged at the provocation of the puppet group, while getting fully ready to give a shower of dreadful fire and blow up the bulwark of the enemies if they dare to encroach again upon [North Korea's] dignity and sovereignty even in the least," KCNA said Friday.
"The group should not run amok, clearly understanding the will and mettle of the highly alerted army and people of [North Korea] to wipe out the enemies."
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi met Friday with North Korean Ambassador to China Chi Jae Ryong and talked with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, Xinhua said. "They exchanged views on issues including the situation of the Korean Peninsula," according to a statement released Friday night by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, it added.
The United States has condemned the attack on Yeonpyeong Island and affirmed its military commitments to South Korea.
Also Friday, South Korea named a new defense minister to replace the official who resigned Thursday amid criticism due to North Korea's sinking of a warship in March and Tuesday's deadly shelling of South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island.
South Korea's government nominated Kim Kwan-jin as defense minister, a Blue House media official told CNN.
The National Assembly is to hold a confirmation hearing on the 61-year-old Kim, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2006 to 2008, prior to his retirement.
South Korean and U.S. forces plan to drill in the Yellow Sea from Sunday until Wednesday. The United States has described the drill as defensive in nature. The exercises were planned months ago, and are meant to underscore strong ties between South Korea and the United States, defense officials from both countries have said.
All but about 30 of the island's 1,300 residents have evacuated, with most of them moving to the South Korean mainland, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said. About 100 soldiers and workers also were on the island, doing cleanup and repairs.
The North appeared to have carefully targeted Tuesday's attack, a key South Korean lawmaker said Friday after a visit to Yeonpyeong Island.
"My hunch is that North Korea was picking and choosing its aiming point, they are very focused," said South Korean Congresswoman Song Young-sun, an influential member of the National Assembly's Defense Committee. "They attacked gas station, helicopter pad and command and control sites and water tanks. Everything that is directly related to military operations, they have completely smashed."
Asked why North Korea might have attacked, she said: "I think they are doing this training for dual purposes. One is for South Korea: They are arbitrarily suggesting the different maritime border line from our Northern Limit Line. They are trying to verify what they demand, so they are doing exercises and training."
The expected forthcoming succession of power from North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il to his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, also plays into it, Song said.
"What Kim Jong Un wants to demonstrate is his influence and his exertion of power, because he needs in a very speedy time to prove within the next couple of years that he is strong and qualified to succeed," she said.
The South has scrambled as a result of Tuesday's shelling.
The Cheonan sinking sparked a public uproar, with many saying that it should not have been possible for North Korea to have damaged South Korea's more modern military. North Korea has denied involvement in the sinking.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak drew criticism for his initial statements after the Yeonpyeong bombardment, when he asked for a stern response but also called for de-escalatory measures to be taken. Later that day, Lee spoke to the military and urged heavy retaliation.
South Korea said Thursday it will strengthen its rules of engagement in the Yellow Sea. South Korean marine forces based in five islands near North Korea and the disputed Northern Limit Line also will be reinforced, a government spokesman said.
The tense maritime border between the two Koreas has become the major military flash point on the Korean peninsula in recent years.
The Yeonpyeong attack was the first direct artillery assault on South Korea since 1953, when an armistice ended fighting, though both Koreas are still technically at war.
Complete Coverage of Korea From CNN
Complete Coverage of Korea From CNN
Andrew Salmon contributed to this report for CNN.
November 26th, 2010
Published November 26, 2010 | FoxNews.com
Responding to China's first official protest over plans by the U.S. and South Korea to hold joint military exercises, the Pentagon assured the communist country Friday that the naval drill is aimed only at North Korea, Reuters reported.
The Pentagon also said that the U.S. military has routinely operated in waters off the Korean peninsula "for years," Reuters reported.
The exercise involves the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and is planned to happen on Sunday in the Yellow Sea.
Beijing's protest, in a statement from the Foreign Ministry Friday, was noticeably more restrained than when the U.S. announced similar plans, involving the same aircraft carrier, in July.
"We hold a consistent and clear-cut stance on the issue," the statement quoted Hong Lei, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, as saying. "We oppose any party to take any military actions in our exclusive economic zone without permission."
The statement appeared to offer all sides a face-saving compromise, by implying China did not oppose exercises outside its "exclusive economic zone," a term of international maritime law that generally extends 200 nautical miles from a country's coast.
The restrained language, and the apparent diplomatic get-out, could reflect China's concern that the North Korean crisis will overshadow a planned trip to Washington in January by President Hu Jintao.
The U.S. and South Korea announced the exercises Wednesday, after North Korea fired artillery at a South Korean island near their disputed maritime border, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians.
At a routine briefing on Thursday, Mr. Hong had said only that China was "concerned" over reports about the joint exercises.
Back in July, Chinese officials said they opposed any military exercises in the entire Yellow Sea, and protested so vociferously that the U.S. and South Korea shifted their maneuvers to the Sea of Japan, east of South Korea.
November 26th, 2010
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama needed 12 stitches in his upper lip after taking an errant elbow during a pickup basketball game Friday morning with family and friends visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday, the White House said.
First word of the injury came in a statement from press secretary Robert Gibbs nearly three hours after the incident.
The White House did not initially name the person who caused the injury, but identified him later Friday as Rey Decerega, director of programs for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.
Obama received the stitches under local anesthesia in the doctor's office on the ground floor of the White House after returning home. Doctors used a smaller filament than typically used, which increases the number of stitches but makes a tighter stitch and leaves a smaller scar.
The president had gone to nearby Fort McNair to indulge in a game of basketball, one of his favorite athletic pursuits. It was a five-on-five contest involving family and friends. Among the players were Obama's nephew, Avery Robinson, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Reggie Love, Obama's personal assistant, who played at Duke University.
The White House said the injury happened during their fifth and final game when Decerega turned to take a shot and hit Obama, who was playing defense, in the mouth with his elbow.
Obama emerged from the building after about 90 minutes of play, wearing a short-sleeve T-shirt and gym pants, and was seen dabbing at his mouth with what appeared to be a wad of gauze. A few hours later, reporters who had gathered on the White House driveway for the arrival of the Christmas tree saw the president in an upstairs window, pressing an ice pack against his mouth before he stood and walked away.
"After being inadvertently hit with an opposing player's elbow in the lip while playing basketball with friends and family, the president received 12 stitches today administered by the White House Medical Unit," Gibbs said.
Decerega issued a statement through the White House late Friday. He did not immediately respond to an e-mail request from The Associated Press for independent comment.
"I learned today the president is both a tough competitor and a good sport," the statement said. "I enjoyed playing basketball with him this morning. I'm sure he'll be back out on the court again soon."
Obama's motorcade obeyed all traffic stops, the custom for nonofficial trips, during the return to the White House.
In February, Obama, 49, was deemed to be in excellent health and fit for duty after his first medical checkup as president. Doctors reported then that Obama had yet to kick a smoking habit, takes anti-inflammatory medication to relieve chronic tendinitis in his left knee and should make dietary changes to reduce his cholesterol levels.
Obama was told to return for another physical exam in August 2011, after he turns 50. In addition to regular pickup basketball games, Obama is also an avid golfer.
Obama had no public events scheduled during the long holiday weekend.
His stitched lip, however, could make for some interesting small talk on Tuesday, when Obama is to meet with the congressional leadership. The session originally was announced for Nov. 18, but was delayed after Republicans, who will control the House and increase their numbers in the Senate come January, said they couldn't accommodate the president.
Medical help is always nearby for U.S. presidents. A doctor or nurse is stationed at the White House around the clock and accompanies the president in his motorcade and aboard Air Force One.
Recent presidents have had a number of medical scares.
George W. Bush choked on a pretzel and briefly lost consciousness, falling and hurting his head. Bill Clinton had surgery and used crutches for months for a torn tendon in his knee when he stumbled on steps at the Florida home of golf pro Greg Norman.
The elder Bush, George H.W. Bush, was hospitalized for an erratic heartbeat while jogging at Camp David, a problem later diagnosed as a thyroid ailment. The senior Bush also collapsed at a state dinner in Tokyo, which the White House blamed on an intestinal flu.
Jimmy Carter fainted briefly while jogging near Camp David. Ronald Reagan was shot in the chest in a 1981 assassination attempt.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, 69, has had five heart attacks since age 37. He had surgery this year to install a pump to help his heart work. Cheney said he has congestive heart failure.
November 26th, 2010
Published November 26, 2010 | FoxNews.com
Is he a terrorist or just a sick man?
That is the question police and federal authorities are still asking after the arrest last week of George Djura Jakubec, whose rented house in Escondido, Calif., contained what local authorities called “the largest quantity of homemade explosives found in one location in the history of the United States.”
The quiet, cluttered home of the man neighbors described as very private was brought to authorities' attention when a gardener employed by Jakubec brushed set off an explosion by brushing against an explosive powder left on the back yard of the home. The gardener suffered severe injuries but is expected to recover.
Police and fire officials at first found the unemployed computer consultant reluctant to talk, but after questioning he admitted that he had hand grenades and other explosive materials in his house, according to papers filed by prosecutors. They have charged the 54-year-old Serbian-born suspect with 28 counts of possession and manufacturing destructive devices, as well as two counts of bank robbery.
Police entered the house after the arrest but later pulled back, citing the disarray and the amount of explosives, chemicals and other dangerous material scattered about the home. They returned again Thursday and, once again, decided the house was too dangerous to search.
Before evacuating, they blew up several explosive containers in the back yard, increasing tensions in the neighborhood.
The little information available on Jakubec paints a portrait of an isolated and troubled man.
Mario Garcia, the gardener who worked for him for three years, told local reporters that he barely knew Jakubec but he seemed "friendly and calm” the few times they had contact. On hot days, he would sometimes bring him a soda, he added.
Jakubec's former employer, Via Telecom, had just filed suit against him seeking more than $3,000 in back wages. The California based company charged that Jukubec simply stopped coming to work one day and that company wanted to recover the payments made for the period of time he wasn’t there.
Unemployed and divorced, he turned the suburban home, which he moved into in 2007, and its back patio into a workshop and told people he was an inventor. Before moving into the San Diego-area home, he lived for 15 years in a nearby apartment complex. Reporters who visited the complex couldn’t find anyone who remembered him.
Outside the court hearing where he was charged and held on $5 million bond, his estranged wife Marina Ivanova, told reporters simply, “He was a good man.” She declined to answer further questions.
Public records also show that he held a general contractors license from 1988 to1992 and had been issued a private pilot certificate in 1980. On his Linked-Iin account he listed current occupation as a computer consultant and stated he was looking for work.
Among the chemicals that Jakubec is accused of possessing is PETN, the powerful explosive that has shown up in prominent terrorism cases on airplanes, including the 2001 shoe bomb plot, last year's underwear bomb plot and the recent cargo plane bomb plot.
He also allegedly had a homemade supply of HMTD, an explosive often used by suicide bombers.
Both the quantity and the types of explosives have lead police and federal authorities to keep an extremely tight lid on information about the case. The judge even asked the media not to show Jakubec’s face until the investigation progresses further.
The sheriff’s office in San Diego, which is leading the investigation, had no comment on Friday and said they didn’t expect to make any more comment for the next several days.
November 26th, 2010
The USS George Washington, accompanied by escort ships, is to take part in military drills with South Korea following North Korea's shelling of a South Korean island Tuesday that was one of the most serious confrontations since the Korean War a half-century ago.
It's a scenario China has sought to prevent. Only four months ago, Chinese officials and military officers shrilly warned Washington against sending a carrier into the Yellow Sea for an earlier set of exercises. Some said it would escalate tensions after the sinking of a South Korean navy ship blamed on North Korea. Others went further, calling the carrier deployment a threat to Chinese security.
Beijing believes its objections worked. Although Washington never said why, no aircraft carrier sailed into the strategic Yellow Sea, which laps at several Chinese provinces and the Korean peninsula.
This time around, with outrage high over the shelling, the U.S. raising pressure on China to rein in wayward ally North Korea, and a Chinese-American summit in the works, the warship is coming, and Beijing is muffling any criticisms.
"One of the results of North Korea's most recent belligerence has been to make it more difficult for China to condemn U.S. naval deployments in the East China Sea," said Michael Richardson, a visiting research fellow at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. "I think China must be quietly cursing North Korea under their breath."
China's response has so far been limited to expressing mild concern over the exercises. A Foreign Ministry spokesman on Friday reiterated Beijing's long-standing insistence that foreign navies obtain its permission before undertaking military operations inside China's exclusive economic zone, which extends 230 miles (370 kilometers) from its coast.
It wasn't clear where the drills were being held or if they would cross into the Chinese zone.
The statement also reiterated calls for calm and restraint but did not directly mention the Yellow Sea or the planned exercises.
State media have been virtually silent. An editorial in the nationalistic tabloid Global Times worried that a U.S. carrier would upset the delicate balance in the Yellow Sea, ignoring the fact that the George Washington has taken part in drills in those waters numerous times before.
North Korea, by contrast, warned Friday that the U.S.-South Korean military drills were pushing the peninsula to the "brink of war."
A more passive approach this time helps Beijing raise its credibility with Washington and trading partner South Korea, and puts North Korea on notice that its actions are wearing China's patience thin.
"The Chinese government is trying to send Pyongyang a signal that if they continue to be so provocative, China will just leave the North Koreans to themselves," said Zhu Feng, director of Peking University's Center for International and Strategic Studies.
Sending signals is likely to be as far as Beijing goes, however. China fears that tougher action — say cutting the food and fuel assistance Beijing supplies — would destabilize the isolated North Korean dictatorship, possibly leading to its collapse. That could send floods of refugees into northeastern China and result in a pro-U.S. government taking over in the North.
"What China should do is make the North Koreans feel that they have got to stop messing around," Zhu said.
China may also be mindful of its relations with key trading partner Seoul, strained by Beijing's reluctance to condemn Pyongyang over the March ship sinking. Raising a clamor over upcoming drills in the wake of a national tragedy would only further alienate South Korea.
Beijing's mild tone also shows its reluctance to spoil the atmosphere ahead of renewed exchanges with Washington. President Hu Jintao is scheduled to make a state visit to Washington in January hosted by President Barack Obama — replete with a state dinner and other formal trappings that President George W. Bush never gave the Chinese leader.
Before that Gen. Ma Xiaotian, one of the commanders who objected to the George Washington's deployment earlier this year, is due in Washington for defense consultations. Those talks are another step in restoring tattered defense ties, a key goal of the Obama administration.
Chinese fixations about aircraft carriers verge on the visceral. U.S. carriers often figure in Chinese media as a symbol of the American government's ability to project power around the world. The Chinese navy is building a carrier, and keeping U.S. ones out of China's waters is seen as rightful deference to its growing power.
The U.S. is worried about a key principle: the U.S. Navy's right to operate in international waters.
While China doesn't claim sovereignty over the entire Yellow Sea, it has become assertive about its maritime territorial claims and sensitive to U.S. Navy operations in surrounding waters. In the South China Sea, which China claims in its entirety, China has seized foreign fishing boats and harassed U.S. Navy surveillance ships.
In light of such trends, China's protests of the September drills virtually compelled the U.S. Navy to send the George Washington this time, said Alan Romberg of the Stimson Center think tank in Washington, who met with Chinese military commanders in the summer.
"The People's Liberation Army thinks it achieved an initial victory in keeping the U.S. from deploying the George Washington in that first exercise. That guarantees that the George Washington will go there at some point, probably sooner rather than later," Romberg said in an interview in September.
Even if China's reticence holds this time, Beijing is not likely to cede the U.S. Navy carte blanche to range throughout the Yellow Sea.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei has stated that China's stance on U.S. naval action in the Yellow Sea remains unchanged. The politically influential and increasingly vocal military is also likely to keep the pressure on the leadership to take a firm stand.
Any affront to Beijing's authority or intrusion into Chinese territorial waters would inflame the Chinese public and require a government response, said Fang Xiuyu, an analyst on Korean issues at Fudan University's Institute of International Studies in Shanghai.
"We hope that the U.S. can exert restraint and not cross that line," Fang said.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Christopher Bodeen has covered Chinese foreign policy in Beijing and Shanghai since 2000.