South Korea Refers Cheonan Case to U.N. Security Council
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea officially requested the United Nations Security Council last week to come up with a coordinated international action against North Korea for attacking one of its warships in March. The move signaled the beginning of the Seoul-led campaign to force the North to face the consequences of its armed attack, which killed 46 sailors near the maritime border in the West Sea on March 26.
South Korea's ambassador to the United Nations, Park In-kook, handed the letter of request to the Council's president, now Mexico, in New York, stressing that the North deserves stern censuring for the unprovoked attack on the warship Cheonan, Seoul's foreign ministry said on June 4.
"The government requested that the U.N. Security Council discuss the matter and respond sternly to North Korea's military provocations as North Korea's armed attack is posing threats to international peace and security," the ministry said in a statement.
A multinational investigation concluded last month that a submarine from the socialist nation secretly attacked the Cheonan with a heavy torpedo near the tense Yellow Sea border off the divided Korean Peninsula. A summary of the investigation's results was attached to the letter sent to the Council, a ministry official said.
North Korea has rejected the outcome as a "sheer fabrication." On June 4, Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry urged Council members to "pay primary attention to objectively probing the truth behind the case" unless they want to see the Council "reduced again to a tool for high-handed and arbitrary practices of the U.S."
North Korea has threatened war if it is punished or sanctioned for the sinking, demanding Seoul accept an inspecting group from Pyongyang and verify the results of its probe in front of it.
On June 9, North Korea said it has sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council to urge a new probe into the sinking of the South Korean warship, warning of "serious" consequences if punishment against Pyongyang is discussed.
"In case the unilaterally forged 'investigation result' is put on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council ... it will be more than clear that the sovereignty and security of (North Korea) is infringed upon," a letter by Sin Son-ho, permanent North Korea representative at the U.N., was quoted as saying by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
"By then, no one would dare imagine how serious its consequences would be with regard to the peace and security on the Korean Peninsula," the letter, addressed to UNSC President Claude Heller and sent on June 8, was quoted as saying.
In Singapore on June 4, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said his government has formally asked the U.N. Security Council to discuss penalties against North Korea for its deadly attack on the warship.
"Today, the Republic of Korea government referred the matter of North Korea's attack against the Cheonan to the U.N. Security Council," Lee said in a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual regional security forum, using South Korea's official name.
Seoul's move, which came in spite of Pyongyang's threat of the "toughest retaliation," ushers in a heated diplomatic struggle between South Korea's allies and the North's traditional allies over the sinking of the Cheonan, a 1,200-ton patrol ship.
After weeks of investigation assisted by the U.S., Australia, Sweden and Britain, South Korea announced late last month that a North Korean submarine was found to have sneaked into southern waters and torpedoed the Cheonan.
The U.S., Japan and many other countries have expressed support for South Korea's punitive steps against North Korea, but China and Russia have refrained from blaming the North.
Lee, who arrived in Singapore earlier on June 4 for a two-day stay, stressed that the Cheonan issue is not a matter related just to South Korea, but is also a serious threat to the stability of Northeast Asia. "This is why all those taking part in the six-party talks, together with the international community, must work together," he said in his 20-minute address, titled "Vision for a Global Asia and the Role of the Republic of Korea."
The six-way talks, now stalled, group China, Russia, the U.S., Japan and the two Koreas with the aim of resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis. Lee stressed regional peace and security will be jeopardized if the international community lets the socialist regime's repeated provocations go unpunished.
South Korea's request for the Security Council action, filed with Mexico's U.N. ambassador Claude Heller, marks the beginning of what is expected to be an intense diplomacy game between South Korea, backed by the United States, Japan and other supporters, and China and Russia, which have been taking vague stances on the sinking.
Support from Beijing and Moscow, which have close ties with Pyongyang, is crucial for any Council action against North Korea as the two countries are among the five veto-wielding permanent seat holders in the 15-member Council.
Despite strong pleas from Seoul, China has refused to accept the international probe's outcome and acknowledge the North's culpability. Analysts have said that Beijing fears pushing the North too hard could cause instability in the North and in the region, which then could hurt the Chinese economy.
Russia has also been reluctant and said it would decide whether to support South Korea at the Council after examining the investigation data and evidence. A Russian team of naval specialists was in South Korea for the mission.
South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Chun Yung-woo, who is in charge of U.N. affairs, visited Washington and New York last week for talks with U.S. and U.N. officials. Seoul's chief nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lac, also visited Moscow in an effort to draw Russian support. Then he traveled to Beijing to try to convince Chinese officials to support Seoul's move.
South Korea appears to be seeking a Council resolution or a presidential statement condemning North Korea, rather than new sanctions. Officials have said that adopting additional sanctions on the North is not only difficult because of possible opposition from China and Russia, but it will also have little real effect as Pyongyang has already been under a slew of tough sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests.
"We expect the Security Council to send a political, symbolic and moral message that such acts as the Cheonan incident cannot be tolerated and that North Korea should be held accountable and should not repeat this kind of military provocation," Vice Foreign Minister Chun said on June 7.
Even if a resolution or a presidential statement is adopted, its impact on Pyongyang is questionable. Analysts have said that such an action would only add to the long list of international criticism the country has been under for its human rights record and its pursuit of atomic bombs, missiles and other weapons of mass destruction.
North Korea is also certain to reject any Council action against it. Pyongyang has accused the South of fabricating the case and ratcheted up belligerent rhetoric in response to South Korea's retaliatory measures, such as cutting off trade with the impoverished neighbor.
The North has also issued threats to go to an "all-out war" if it is punished or sanctioned, bolster its arsenal of nuclear weapons and strike down propaganda facilities South Korea plans to set up along the border.
The sinking was one of the deadliest incidents between the two Koreas since the 1950-53 Korean War. The conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the divided peninsula still technically at war.
But the U.S. was cautious about how to punish North Korea for the Cheonan incident amid China's lukewarm position on further sanctions on the North.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley on June 8 said, "We do expect the matter to come up within the council in the next couple of weeks. We would expect to have, per the South Korean request, an appropriate response from the U.N. Security Council. But what that specific response is will be a part of the upcoming debate."
Many analysts believe it will take considerable time before the council acts, deciding on whether to issue a non-binding presidential statement or a resolution with or without sanctions. It took about two weeks for the council to adopt resolutions against North Korea for its nuclear and missile tests last year.