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North Korea arrests American; continues shelling near disputed border

Analysts and diplomats are scratching their heads as to why North Korea continued firing artillery shells into its disputed maritime border with the South for the second day in a row.

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The Korea Times said that North Korea appeared to be pursuing a "two-track" strategy. It's using military provocations to pressure the US to come to the bargaining table, while at the same time moving forward with North-South talks on joint projects such as the operation of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex in the North.

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Despite the provocative action, another North Korea watcher said inter-Korean talks over the operation of the joint Gaeseong Industrial Complex in the North would take place as planned. "Since Pyongyang appears to be taking a two-track approach, it will not dare to ruin inter-Korean relations,'' Prof. Kim Yong-hyun at Dongguk University said. Last week Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to hold working-level talks on the operation of the complex next Monday.

Last month, observers had turned more optimistic on US-North Korean relations. Tensions has somewhat eased since former US President Bill Clinton made a surprise visit to North Korea last August and won the release of two imprisoned US journalists (who were also arrested on the grounds of crossing illegally into North Korea). On that visit he dined with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Key North Korean officials have since visited the US, and US special envoy Stephen Bosworth spent two days in Pyongyang early last month.

In an interview with CFR.org, a website run by the Council on Foreign Relations, Evans Revere, an expert on northeast Asia and former US diplomat, said there were small but encouraging signs after Bosworth's visit that North Korea might be willing to rejoin six-party talks on abandoning its nuclear program, a key US demand.

It was very interesting in terms of Bosworth's press conference to hear him say that the North Koreans expressed an understanding of the value and the need for the Six Party Talks and the importance of the implementation of past agreements. While he didn't get the whole loaf, at least he seems to have gotten some North Korean buy-in to the existence of that loaf. Let's see where they take it from here.

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