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Analysis: Kim Jong Il's cry for help

Analysts feel that the Nov. 10 naval clash between the Koreas is a signal from Pyongyang that it's ready to talk.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il holds a piece of corn during his visit to Dongbong collective farm in North Korea, in this undated picture released on Nov. 8, 2009 by North Korea's official news agency KCNA. (Reuters/KCNA)

SEOUL, South Korea — The Nov. 10 naval clash in disputed Korean waters between North and South Korean forces ended in an intense exchange of fire and the retreat of a North Korean vessel enveloped in flames.

The skirmish off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula — the first in seven years — was a stark reminder that the two Koreas are still at war. But most analysts believe that what appeared to be an aggressive clash was in fact a sign from Pyongyang that it is willing to continue engaging with the rest of the world.

Analysts believe by temporarily escalating tension in the disputed waters, North Korea is trying to speed up dialogue between the U.S. and Pyongyang, and also lay out a new track for North and South Korean relations — essentially, working toward a non-confrontational stance that is different from the one it took with the conservative administration that took office in 2008.

The South’s military announced its patrol boat had sent warnings to the North Korean ship, which it accused of crossing into South Korean waters. The North Korean ship, which claimed to be investigating an unidentified object, the military said, opened fire on the patrol boat and the South retaliated with gunfire. The foreign vessel then retreated to North Korean waters engulfed in flames.

Unlike the next most recent naval clash seven years ago that resulted in the death of both North and South Korean military forces, no casualties were reported from the South Korean side after Tuesday's clash.

Pyongyang has since issued a statement through its state-run news agency demanding an apology from South Korea.

The western waters are considered a hot spot when it comes to military disputes between the two Koreas. The Northern Limit Line is what divides North and South Korean waters, but Pyongyang does not recognize the United Nations-designated maritime border, and it has been a habitual provocation tool used by North Korea to escalate tension on the peninsula.

Shortly after the incident, the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, held an emergency meeting with security-related ministers and expressed concern about retaliation from the North, a possibility that experts do not rule out.

“But the North isn’t going to let tensions escalate with the talks between Pyongyang and Washington coming up soon,” Yang Moo-jin, a North Korea expert from The Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said.