South Korea Officially Accuses North Korea of Torpedoing Ship
It’s official, South Koreans have released forensic evidence linking the sinking of a South Korean ship to a torpedo believed to have North Korean serial numbers on it.
North Korea denies these accusations and has said that if it is punished that it will call for an “all-out war.”
China seems to be dragging its feet on whether or not it will publicly denounce North Korea, and the U.S. is wary of this.
This news comes at a particularly sensitive time in Korean history as Koreans reflect on the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. There’s no telling what will happen next, but here’s hoping no more blood will be shed.
(New York Times)
WASHINGTON — South Korea’s formal accusation that a North Korean torpedo sank one of its warships, killing 46 sailors, will set off a diplomatic drumbeat to punish North Korea, backed by the United States and other nations, which could end up in the United Nations Security Council.
On Thursday morning in Seoul, the South Korean government presented forensic evidence, including part of a torpedo propeller with what investigators believe is a North Korean serial number.
They said it proved that the underwater explosion that shattered the 1,200-ton corvette, the Cheonan, in March near a disputed sea border with the North was caused by the detonation of a torpedo.
On Monday, South Korea is expected to push for the case to be referred to the United Nations, and the United States plans to back Seoul “strongly and unequivocally,” according to Obama administration officials.
The investigation “points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that North Korea was responsible for this attack,” the White House said in a statement after the report was released in Seoul. “This act of aggression is one more instance of North Korea’s unacceptable behavior and defiance of international law.”
The big question, the officials said, is whether China, North Korea’s neighbor and a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, will go along with yet another international condemnation of the North. China backed sanctions against North Korea last year after the North tested a nuclear device, but it has reacted with extreme caution since the ship sank on March 26.
North Korea dismissed the findings as a fabrication and warned that it would wage “all-out war” if it were punished, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency reported.
The sharp escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula complicates a trip to China by a delegation of senior American officials, led by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, to hold a so-called Strategy and Economic Dialogue.
Nearly 200 American officials will travel to Beijing this weekend to consult with their Chinese counterparts on an array of issues, including sanctions against Iran, China’s exchange rate, climate change policy and exchanges between the American and Chinese militaries.
The American delegation will include officials as diverse as Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and the commander of the United States Pacific Command, Adm. Robert F. Willard.
The South Korean report, which essentially accuses the North of the worst military provocation on the Korean Peninsula since the end of the Korean War, injects a potentially combustible element into these talks. Among other things, it raises the question of how hard the United States plans to push Beijing to support a new Security Council resolution.
For weeks after the sinking of the Cheonan, China urged caution in pointing fingers at North Korea, even though the evidence pointed strongly in that direction. On Wednesday, South Korea briefed Chinese diplomats, as well as those of other countries, about its findings.
“China has always tried to avoid making choices between North and South Korea, but an incident like this doesn’t allow that,” said Victor Cha, a former Bush administration official, responsible for North Korean policy, who now teaches at Georgetown University. “They have to choose.”
For the United States, the calculus is also complicated. The Obama administration just won China’s backing for a fourth round of United Nations sanctions against Iran related to its nuclear program. That, some analysts said, was the administration’s main strategic priority at this point.
Still, the United States has been deeply involved in the South’s investigation of the sinking. It sent a team from the Navy’s Pacific Command to take part in the search for clues, officials said, headed by an expert in submarine escape and rescue, Rear Adm. Thomas J. Eccles.
Australia, Canada, Britain and Sweden also took part in the investigation and will endorse its conclusions, officials said. South Korea, the officials said, wanted to have an international team so it would be harder for the North to dismiss the inquiry as politically motivated.
South Korea is weighing other measures against North Korea, which could include cutting imports of raw materials from the North. Those shipments have already been constricted since the North closed several North-South joint-venture companies north of the border.
South Korea could also undertake naval exercises in its coastal waters as a form of muscle-flexing, Mr. Cha said, perhaps in cooperation with the United States.
But the world’s leverage over North Korea is extremely limited, analysts said. The North has little trade with its neighbors, aside from China. It no longer admits United Nations inspectors to visit its nuclear facilities and announced in 2003 that it would withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
On Thursday, Japan said that the report on the sinking would make it harder to resume six-party talks with North Korea over the fate of its nuclear program.
Add to the uncertainty are the motivations, health and even state of mind of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, remained cloaked in mystery. Mr. Kim recently met in Beijing with President Hu Jintao, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and other leaders.
Kurt M. Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said he discussed Mr. Kim’s visit with Chinese officials earlier this week. He predicted that it would be a prime topic for Mrs. Clinton when she meets with Dai Bingguo, a state councilor in charge of foreign affairs.
“A central issue of discussion for Secretary Clinton and her Chinese interlocutors, Dai Bingguo and also the Chinese leaders, will be on their assessments of developments in North Korea and their reaction to the report,” he said.