U.N. Condemns Attack of South Korean Warship without Naming North Korea
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- After a month of tug-of-war, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) adopted a presidential statement in early July on the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship, a case that Seoul had referred to the global security body for a rebuke of North Korea.
The UNSC's statement on July 9 condemning the attack on the warship Cheonan was not exactly what Seoul diplomats initially wanted, as it failed to clearly say that North Korea was behind the attack. The U.N. council merely condemned the attack that led to the sinking of the South Korean warship without directly linking North Korea to the incident.
The 15-member Council issued the presidential statement after Seoul referred the case to the Security Council on June 4 to stave off any further provocations from the North. The Council unanimously approved the statement one day after five veto-wielding members, including the North's major ally, China, agreed to a draft statement.
China succeeded in diluting the statement, as it did not point the finger at North Korea for the torpedo attack in the Yellow Sea that left 46 sailors dead, and included North Korea's denial of involvement in the incident.
However, the statement mentioned that a South Korea-led multinational probe found Pyongyang was behind the sinking.
"The Security Council condemns the attack which led to the sinking of the Cheonan," the 11-point statement said. "In view of the findings of the Joint Civilian-Military Investigation Group led by the ROK (South Korea) with the participation of five nations, which concluded that the DPRK (North Korea) was responsible for sinking the Cheonan, the Security Council expresses its deep concern."
The statement also said the council "takes note of the responses from other relevant parties, including from the DPRK, which has stated that it had nothing to do with the incident."
North Korea has accused the South of fabricating the outcome of the international investigation that found the communist nation behind the attack, and has also threatened an "all-out war" if condemned at the U.N.
The statement is similar to the one issued by the G-8 leaders in Canada late last month, which also failed to directly link North Korea to the sinking of the Cheonan due to Moscow's opposition, but noted that an international probe concluded that North Korea is responsible.
"We condemn, in this context, the attack which led to the sinking of the Cheonan," it said. "We demand that the DPRK refrain from committing any attacks or threatening hostilities against the ROK," it said.
South Korean officials have said they are not seeking further sanctions on North Korea, which is under U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests last year, but added a strong condemnation is needed to head off any further provocations from the North.
South Korea has severed all ties with North Korea, except for a joint industrial complex in the North's border town of Kaesong, and said it will conduct massive joint military exercises with the U.S. in the Yellow Sea to display the countries' joint defense capabilities against North Korea.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the statement. "The UNSC's condemnation of North Korea's attack on the South Korean ship Cheonan sends a clear message that such irresponsible and provocative behavior is a threat to peace and security in the region and will not be tolerated," Clinton said in a statement. "Attacks on the Republic of Korea are unacceptable and the U.S. joins the Security Council in calling for North Korea to uphold the Korean Armistice Agreement."
Clinton called on North Korea to stop provocations and abide by its pledge for denuclearization. "Today's Security Council action underscores the unity of the international community and the reality that a peaceful resolution of the issues on the Korean Peninsula will only be possible if North Korea fundamentally changes its behavior," she said. "It must comply with international law and obligations, live up to its commitments in the Six-Party Joint Statement of 2005, and refrain from provocative behavior."
U.S. ambassador Susan Rice dismissed criticism that the statement failed to directly blame North Korea for the Cheonan's sinking, saying, "This statement is notable, and I think is clear because in the first instance, it uses the term 'attack' repeatedly, which I -- you don't have to be a scholar of the English language to understand is not a neutral term."
Mike Hammer, spokesman for the National Security Council, said that the statement "increases North Korea's international isolation, which includes the strongest sanctions that it has ever faced through UNSC Resolution 1874, as the international community continues to make clear the cost that comes with North Korea's provocative behavior."
South Korean ambassador Park In-kook joined forces. "I think it's crystal clear that the Security Council made it clear that North Korea is to be blamed and condemned," Park said. The South Korean diplomat noted that the statement stressed the importance of observing the armistice regime that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
North Korean ambassador Sin Son-ho, meanwhile, asserted that the statement represents "our great diplomatic victory," although he said it "has failed to bring a correct judgment or conclusion on the case because the Security Council has debated the unclear incidence in a rush."
"From the beginning of the incident, we have made our position very clear, that this incidence has nothing to do with us, nor any involvement we have recognized from the beginning," Sin said.
The North Korean diplomat said that the incident is a reminder of "how dangerous the current Korean armistice mechanism is and the need to replace it with a new peace mechanism," adding, "We will consistently make our efforts to conclude a peace treaty and continue through the denuclearization process on the Korean Peninsula through six-party talks."
Qin Gang, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, issued a statement in Beijing echoing the theme of the North Korean diplomat, saying, "We hope the relevant parties remain calm and take this opportunity to quickly move to the next page of the Cheonan incident. We call for the early resumption of the six-party talks." China, the host of the nuclear talks, has been trying to revive the talks that were held last in December in 2008.
Most analysts believe China's position is key to the future of the six-party talks or any other issues related to North Korea, which is heavily dependent on China for food, energy and other necessities.
Seoul's foreign ministry on July 9 welcomed the UNSC statement, urging North Korea to refrain from further provocations and acknowledge its responsibility for the attack.
"The Security Council's presidential statement carries significant meaning in that the international community condemned North Korea's attack on the Cheonan with a united voice and emphasized the importance of preventing additional provocations" against the South, Seoul's foreign ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun said.
"The government strongly urges North Korea not to engage in any provocations or acts that hurt peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula by seriously taking the international community's strong stance that no provocations against South Korea will be tolerated," he said.
Responding to the U.N. statement, North Korea said it is committed to denuclearization, but warned against provocations against its regime. The country's foreign ministry said July 10 that it has heard the UNSC statement urging dialogue, and anyone who tries to provoke the communist country, despite the appeal by the U.N., will be handled with strong countermeasures.
A ministry spokesman emphasized that the Council has ended its negotiations on the sunken South Korean ship by issuing a presidential statement "devoid of any proper judgment and conclusion without adopting any resolution on it," the North's Korean Central News Agency said in a report.
"We take note of the presidential statement saying that 'the Security Council encourages the settlement of outstanding issues on the Korean Peninsula by peaceful means to resume direct dialogue and negotiation through appropriate channels,'" the spokesman said. "The Cheonan case should have been settled between the North and the South without referring it to the U.N."
The North also vowed to continue its efforts for denuclearization and a peace treaty through six-party talks. "The DPRK will make consistent efforts for the conclusion of a peace treaty and the denuclearization through the six-party talks conducted on equal footing," the spokesman said.
In view of the North's repeated warnings of military retaliation if the UNSC should adopt a statement on the sinking, the foreign ministry's response is considered to be relatively moderate.
Experts say now that Seoul has to settle for the statement, although it is less than satisfactory, given China's refusal to link the incident to North Korea. They said the U.N. statement represents the symbolic completion of a round of bilateral and international responses to the sinking, which was the deadliest naval disaster between the two Koreas since the Korean War. It also represents the starting point of a post-Cheonan situation.
Some officials in Seoul have said that how the situation unfolds after the U.N. statement depends on North Korea, saying options are limited for the South because the country is the victim in the case.
"A Security Council measure carries meaning in that it shows an exit for North Korea. It's like we're opening the way for the North to look for an exit," a senior official said on condition of anonymity. "But it's up to North Korea to actually go find the exit."