Koreas Collide over Probe of Cheonan Sinking at U.N. Security Council
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea have been engaged in a hectic diplomatic bout in the U.N. Security Council this week over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship, which killed 46 sailors in the Yellow Sea.
South Korea has been intensifying diplomacy to have the U.N. Council censure North Korea for sinking the warship Cheonan on March 26. Seoul referred the deadly sinking to the Council earlier this month.
Vehemently denying involvement in the disaster, North Korea has claimed that the South Korean probe into the disaster is a "complete fabrication" and warned that its military forces will respond if the U.N. Security Council questions or condemns the country over the incident.
In New York on June 14, South Korea briefed Security Council members on the outcome of a multinational investigation that found North Korea responsible for the Cheonan's sinking. The briefing drew wide support from Council members, though China and Russia still remained noncommittal, officials said.
Experts from South Korea and five other nations briefed the 15 Council member nations on their findings as part of Seoul's efforts to censure Pyongyang for the ship attack. "No countries made remarks denying the investigation outcome," a South Korean official in Seoul said on condition of anonymity. "The overall atmosphere was that they appeared to be giving a nod."
In New York, Yoon Duk-yong, a renowned South Korean scientist who headed the investigation, told reporters after the briefing that his team offered sufficient explanations and Council members "appeared to understand a lot."
Yoon, a South Korean university professor, said his team also urged the Council to respond appropriately to North Korea's provocations. He said questions from Council members focused mostly on technical matters, but declined to elaborate.
The two-hour briefing began with opening remarks by the Council's rotating president, Mexico's Claude Heller, and South Korea's U.N. Ambassador Park In-kook. That was followed by the screening of a video showing North Korean torpedo parts being pulled from the site of the sinking, and a question and answer session, officials in New York said. Ambassador Park said there were serious discussions and called the session "satisfactory."
During the meeting, France and the United States expressed support for the investigation results and called for the North to be strongly punished. But China and Russia, the North's traditional backers, largely remained silent without asking any questions, they said.
After the South Korean briefing, North Korean officials, including Pyongyang's U.N. Ambassador Sin Son-ho, also held an hour-long session with the Council members and repeated their denial of any involvement in the sinking.
Amb. Pak Dok-hun, deputy chief of North Korea's mission at the U.N., also told reporters in New York, saying, "We are a victim of this incident. We have nothing to do with this incident."
Pak claimed that the South should allow a team of North Korean experts to look into the investigation records. Calling the multinational probe "unscientific," the diplomat repeated previous claims by Pyongyang's National Defense Commission that the probe had serious holes. Seoul's defense ministry immediately said the allegations were groundless.
Officials have said that the Council could adopt either a resolution or a presidential statement to condemn the North.
The South Korean-led investigation concluded last month that a North Korean submarine secretly infiltrated the southern waters near their tense western sea border and attacked the Cheonan with a heavy torpedo. Investigators have presented such hard evidence as North Korean torpedo parts collected from the scene.
The fate of South Korea's push for a rebuke of the North at the Council hinges on Beijing and Moscow. The two nations, which hold veto power at the 15-member Council, have expressed reservations about the findings of the investigation.
South Korean officials have said they were not seeking any new U.N. sanctions against the North, which has already been under an array of sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests. Officials have said that they want a stern Council condemnation and warning against the North.
The North has warned of an "all-out war" if it is punished or sanctioned for the sinking. On June 12, the communist regime threatened that its armed forces "will launch an all-out military strike" to blow up propaganda loudspeaker facilities the South has installed along the heavily armed border and turn Seoul into a "sea of flame."
North Korea also held a similar session with the U.N. Council, repeating denial of responsibility. On June 15, the North's U.N. Ambassador Sin Son-ho held a press conference, saying his country will take action if the Council condemns the North with a resolution or a presidential statement for the sinking.
Sin also rejected the probe's outcome as "some kind of fiction" and a "complete fabrication." "If the Security Council releases any documents against us, condemning or questioning us in any document, then myself, as a diplomat, I can do nothing, but the follow-up measures will be carried out by our military forces," he said.
When asked if his country would rule out the use of nuclear weapons in response to any Security Council action, Sin said, "Nuclear weapons are our deterrent because we are always threatened by outside forces."
Sin called the accusation against North Korea "a farce concocted by the U.S. and South Korea in pursuit of their political purposes" and claimed the warship ran aground, rather than being torpedoed.
He called on South Korea to accept a North Korean inspection team to clarify the investigation outcome, and denounced the Lee Myung-bak government for faking the incident for political gains in the provincial elections earlier this month. He also faulted the Obama administration for influencing Japan to scrap its plans to move a U.S. Marine base out of Okinawa.
The news conference came a day after the two Koreas made separate presentations to the U.N. body over Seoul's request to punish Pyongyang over the sinking.
The council said in a statement after the presentations that it is concerned the ship sinking could endanger peace on the Korean Peninsula, and it urged Seoul and Pyongyang to refrain from any provocative acts.
Meanwhile, the U.S. called on the U.N. to respond strongly to North Korea's provocations, dismissing the North's threat to take military action in the event of any U.N. condemnation for the warship's sinking.
"What is important for North Korea is to take stock of these provocative actions, cease this belligerent behavior," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.
"We are looking for the U.N. and the international community to come together and make a strong response to that provocation. What we need from North Korea is first of all accountability. And secondly we need behavior that we think is more consistent with a responsible state."
Crowley was responding to remarks by North Korea's U.N. envoy, Sin Son-ho, earlier in the day that the North Korean military will take action if the U.N. Security Council condemns the North with a resolution or a presidential statement.