U.S. to announce next week whether Clinton will visit Seoul
By Hwang Doo-hyong
WASHINGTON, May 14 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. State Department said Friday it will be able to announce early next week whether Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will make a trip to South Korea the following week.
"The Secretary actually had a trip meeting this afternoon," department spokesman Philip Crowley said. "I think we'll be making some final decisions. We'll be announcing the schedule early next week, prior to her departure. So we're pretty close to setting the trip. But we're not prepared to announce the schedule yet."
Crowley was responding to a question on whether Clinton would be visiting Seoul on her way back home from a two-day strategic dialogue in Beijing on May 24-25.
Reports said Clinton will drop by Seoul in a show of solidarity with South Korea over the deadly March sinking of naval warship near the Yellow Sea border with North Korea.
The North is suspected to be behind the sinking of the Cheonan, which killed 46 South Korean sailors, although an international team of specialists has yet to determine the cause.
The investigation is being focused on several metal fragments and traces of a high explosive found at the scene of the sinking and in the wreckage, Seoul officials said, adding the results will be released Thursday.
Crowley would not link Clinton's possible trip to Seoul to the ship sinking, but added the U.S. will cooperate closely with South Korea on the issue after the investigation's outcome is announced.
"I wouldn't link the two directly together," he said. "The investigation is ongoing in South Korea. I think it's in the final stages. We will be talking to South Korea about that investigation and its implications."
South Korea says that it will bring the case to the U.N. Security Council for further sanctions if North Korea is confirmed to be responsible.
Clinton on Tuesday called Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo to discuss the "ongoing investigation and its potential ramifications once the investigation is completed," Crowley said.
China, one of five veto powers on the U.N. Security Council, is the key to any international efforts to sanction North Korea. Beijing, Pyongyang's staunchest communist ally, has often thwarted or diluted moves by the U.S. and its allies to rebuke North Korea for its nuclear and missile tests.
Earlier in the day, Lee Yong-joon, South Korea's deputy foreign minister, said South Korea and the United States are in sync over ways to deal with the Cheonan incident, although he added, "Details will be released after the outcome of the probe (into the sinking) is announced."
Emerging from a meeting here with Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and Wallace Gregson, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, Lee said, "There were no different opinions on the issue of the Cheonan, and we've agreed on all issues."
Lee was accompanied by Deputy Defense Minister Chang Kwang-il to help prepare for a meeting of U.S. and South Korean foreign and defense ministers, expected to be held in Seoul in July.
"We've discussed a lot of things, but any decision on how to react should be made after the probe result comes out," Lee said, adding, "Today's meeting is a preparatory meeting for the Two-Plus-Two Ministerial Meeting scheduled to be held this year, and we've discussed a lot of the agenda to be dealt with at the ministerial talks."
Crowley also said that the Cheonan incident was discussed in the meeting between South Korean and U.S. officials earlier in the day, without elaborating. "I'm sure the Cheonan investigation came up."
The meeting addressed "the full range of bilateral and multilateral discussions," the spokesman said. "I am confident that various issues related to North Korea came up. I'm confident that they also talked about ongoing plans in terms of our ongoing defense cooperation and changes that we're discussing about the nature of the alliance."
Another South Korean official, requesting anonymity, said that the South Korean and U.S. officials also discussed "how to cooperate with China in a variety of ways on the Cheonan incident as China's position is important."
The investigation of the ship sinking has reached the final stage and is narrowing down on the cause, the official said. "The cause is one thing and who is responsible is another. It will take more time before determining who should be held responsible."
The Cheonan incident will likely hamper international efforts to revive the six-party talks on North Korea's denuclearization, which Pyongyang has boycotted for over a year due to the U.N. sanctions.
South Korea says it will not rejoin the six-party nuclear talks before the outcome of the Cheonan probe comes out.
James Steinberg, U.S. deputy secretary of state, supported South Korea's position Monday when he said the Cheonan incident "will have an impact on how we proceed in dealing with the challenge of North Korea and its actions, not only on the nuclear front, but in other provocative measures that it takes."