(LEAD) Gates dismisses military option against N. Korea on ship sinking
By Hwang Doo-hyong
WASHINGTON, June 6 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Sunday ruled out a military option against North Korea after the North's torpedoing of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors in March.
"As long as the regime doesn't care about what the outside world thinks of it, as long as it doesn't care about the well-being of its people, there is not a lot you can do about it, to be quite frank, unless you are willing at some point to use military force," Gates said in an interview with BBC. "And nobody wants to do that."
Gates' remarks came one day after he spoke to the annual regional security forum of defense ministers from 28 countries, called the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore, and said that the U.S. was reviewing "additional options" against North Korea without specifying, in order not to set "the wrong precedent."
South Korea severed all ties with North Korea, except for the joint industrial complex in the North's border town of Kaesong, and took the case to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions after an international team of investigators concluded late last month that a North Korean mini-submarine torpedoed the Cheonan near the inter-Korean border in the Yellow Sea.
North Korea denies involvement and has threatened all-out war if sanctioned.
Gates supported South Korea's bid to condemn North Korea in the Security Council.
"You can bring together additional pressure; you can do another resolution at the U.N.," he said.
Gates said Saturday that the U.S. would delay the joint military exercise with South Korea in the Yellow Sea, originally planned for this week as a show of force against North Korea, to wait for the Security Council to take action.
South Korean officials said that the joint naval exercise will be conducted late this month to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, which falls on June 25, with the participation of a U.S. aircraft carrier USS George Washington.
In delivering a letter to Mexican Ambassador Claude Heller, the rotating chairman of the 15-nation council this month, to ask for "some action," South Korea's U.N. Ambassador Park In-kook did not elaborate on what kind of action South Korea seeks, saying Seoul will present a concrete position after further consultations with council members.
A senior South Korean official is expected to soon visit Beijing to seek support for rebuking Pyongyang, which China has not yet officially blamed for the Cheonan's sinking. China has only stressed the need to "avoid conflict" and "maintain peace and stability" on the Korean Peninsula.
China, which wields veto power on the Security Council, has long been lukewarm to any sanctions on North Korea, its staunchest communist ally that is heavily dependent on China for food, energy and other necessities.
Most analysts say it will take more time before the council takes any action -- whether a non-binding presidential statement or a resolution with or without sanctions -- than the approximately two weeks the council took to adopt resolutions against North Korea for its nuclear and missile tests in the past years.
South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Chun Yung-woo said last week that Seoul wants to send "a symbolic and political message" to "head off a recurrence of this kind of military provocation" rather than additional sanctions, apparently in recognition of the lukewarm attitude of China and Russia, another veto power.
North Korea is already subject to an overall arms and economic embargo for its nuclear and missile tests.
"We have every means to impose sanctions unilaterally or multilaterally in cooperation with our allies, without additional Security Council action," Chun said.