UN Security Council condemns SKorea ship sinking but doesn’t directly blame NKorea

Friday, July 9, 2010

UN condemns SKorea ship sinking

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council on Friday condemned a deadly attack on a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors and pointed a finger toward North Korea but didn’t directly blame the reclusive communist nation.

North Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Sin Son Ho called it “our great diplomatic victory,” stressing again that his country had nothing to do with the sinking of the 1,200-ton Cheonan on March 26. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said he wouldn’t react “to overblown rhetoric.”

North Korea previously warned that its military forces would respond if the council questioned or condemned the country over the sinking, and ambassador Sin compared the situation on the Korean peninsula to a “trigger” that may explode “at any moment.” At the same time, he said North Korea will make “efforts” to continue the denuclearization process through six-party talks, which Pyongyang abandoned in December 2008, and to replace the Armistice Agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War with a new peace treaty.

The statement about the ship sinking, approved by all 15 council members, expressed “deep concern” over the findings of a South Korean-led international investigation that concluded that a North Korean torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine sank the Cheonan.

The statement, read by the council president, condemns the attack and calls for “appropriate and peaceful measures to be taken against those responsible.”

But it doesn’t identify who is responsible and notes North Korea’s response “that it had nothing to do with the incident.”

North Korea has called for a new joint investigation by both Koreas and demanded that its inspectors be allowed to go to the site of the sinking near the tense Korean sea border. Sin again pledged that his government will “do our utmost to dig out the truth behind this incident.”

South Korea had wanted the council to condemn the North. But China, the North’s closest ally and a veto-wielding council member, opposed direct condemnation for the sinking or a third round of sanctions against North Korea.

While U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice and South Korean Ambassador Park In-kook insisted the council statement makes clear that North Korea was responsible for the attack, some diplomats and analysts privately called it weak for not directly blaming Pyongyang.

“The message to North Korean leadership is crystal clear,” Rice said. “The Security Council condemns and deplores this attack.” She said the council’s use of the word “attack” and its expression of “deep concern” about the investigation’s findings show how all members viewed the sinking.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the statement “underscores the unity of the international community and the reality that a peaceful resolution of the issues on the Korean Peninsula will only be possible if North Korea fundamentally changes its behavior.”

South Korea’s Park said “it’s crystal clear that the Security Council made it clear that it is North Korea to be blamed and to be condemned.”

South Korea sent a letter to the council on June 4 asking the U.N.’s most powerful body to respond to the sinking “in a manner appropriate to the gravity of North Korea’s military provocation.”

After more than a month of closed-door discussions, the United States announced Thursday that the five permanent council members — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — as well as South Korea and Japan had reached agreement on the text.

Diplomats said the key was getting China and South Korea to agree on the statement.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement Friday that China hopes relevant parties can “turn over the page on the Cheonan incident as soon as possible.”

“We call for an early resumption of the six-party talks and joint efforts to maintain the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula,” Qin said.

In his brief remarks Friday, North Korea’s Sin referred to the six-party talks and Pyongyang’s rejection of the Armistice Agreement.

The Cheonan incident “reminds us once again how dangerous the current armistice mechanism is, and the need to replace it with a new peace mechanism,” he said. “We will consistently make our efforts to conclude (a) peace treaty and continue to denuclearization process on the Korean peninsula through six-party talks.”

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement Saturday in Pyongyang largely echoing Sin’s comments and warning that any provocations or sanctions by South Korea and the U.S. “in contravention of the presidential statement” would be met by “strong physical retaliation.”

Associated Press Writers David Thurber in Bangkok, Kelly Olsen in Seoul, Cara Anna in Beijing and Foster Klug in Washington contributed to this report.

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