Is Pyongyang Lying in Wait?

The UN Security Council met for eight and a half hours yesterday to try to figure out what to do with the situation on the Korean peninsula. Tensions between North and South Korea have been escalating ever since Pyongyang launched artillery shells at the South at the end of November. And U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said that the body isn’t likely to come to any sort of consensus on what to do. As she put it, “The gaps that remain are unlikely to be bridged.” China and Russia have been supporting an ambiguous statement about the November shelling incident, but according to Rice, the “vast majority” of Security Council members want a “clear-cut condemnation.”

Seoul meanwhile wrapped up live-fire naval exercises today without incident. Pyongyang had warned that the exercises could spark a war. The regime seems to have paid attention to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who was in Pyongyang over the weekend urging the country to show restraint. Instead of launching shells against South Korea, the North issued a strongly worded warning to both Seoul and Washington. Richardson acknowledged that Pyongyang might just be waiting for Seoul to let its guard down. But still, that North Korea “took responsible action” this time around is a good sign. He thinks they might be “sending a signal that they're ready to re-engage after having behaved very negatively.” Having expressed concerns about escalation as a result of the live-fire exercises, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen was at the Pentagon last night keeping an eye on the drills.

Over the weekend, Congress repealed don’t ask, don’t tell, a policy that banned gays from serving openly in the military. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that President Obama will put his signature on the repeal soon. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a proponent of the repeal, said he’s not going to rush things and that the policy will remain in effect as a deliberate transition is worked out. He noted that he and his team would move forward on the repeal immediately, but that adequate planning was necessary “to carry out this change carefully and methodically, but purposefully.”

General David Petraeus, the commander of forces in Afghanistan, is urging caution on another matter. As forces ramp up night raids aimed at insurgents, Petraeus has ordered them to be a bit more careful. The night raids in particular have been a source of tension in the U.S.-Afghanistan relationship. They outrage the local population, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai at one point ordered that all such operations cease. Petraeus’s latest directive requires that coalition forces let communities know when the raids would take place.

On Friday, Admiral Mullen and U.S. Ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry echoed the findings of the administration’s Afghanistan strategy review. The two reiterated that the progress made thus far in the war is tenuous and more steps are needed if that progress is to be shored up. They cited improving governance and ramping up the fight against corruption as two key steps the Karzai administration needs to take to keep things on track. Mullen also said that he is “convinced that we have the right strategy” in Afghanistan.