South Korean troops prepare to deter retaliation after naval skirmish with the North

South Korea warned it was ready to deter any retaliation by North Korea following the two countries’ first naval clash in seven years, reportedly deploying two warships to the disputed sea border Wednesday.

South Korean conservative activists shout slogans during a rally denouncing North Korea’s military in Seoul

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea warned it was ready to deter any retaliation by North Korea following the two countries’ first naval clash in seven years, reportedly deploying two warships to the disputed sea border Wednesday.

The skirmish will not deter Washington from sending an envoy to North Korea, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, vowing to continue efforts to resolve long-standing disputes over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

Tuesday’s exchange of fire occurred hours before U.S. officials said President Barack Obama had decided to accept a North Korean invitation to send the envoy to Pyongyang for the first direct talks during his administration. The incident sparked speculation that the North was trying to foment tensions to gain a negotiating advantage.

The naval clash “does not in any way affect our decision” to send envoy Stephen Bosworth to Pyongyang, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Singapore on Wednesday. “We think it is an important step that stands on its own.”

Bosworth’s trip is aimed at persuading communist North Korea to return to six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations that it walked away from earlier this year.

Both sides blamed the other for Tuesday’s two-minute clash in a crab-fishing area off the countries’ west coast, where both sides regularly accuse the other of violating the disputed border. North Korea’s military demanded that the South apologize.

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