Draft statement condemns ship sinking but doesn’t directly blame North Korea

The United States said Thursday that China and other key nations have agreed to condemn the attack on a South Korean warship and express “deep concern” over findings that North Korea was to blame — but their proposed statement did not directly accuse Pyongyang.

The United States said Thursday that China and other key nations have agreed to condemn the attack on a South Korean warship and express “deep concern” over findings that North Korea was to blame — but their proposed statement did not directly accuse Pyongyang.

Their agreed statement, which was circulated to the full 15-member Security Council for approval, calls for “appropriate and peaceful measures to be taken against those responsible” for the sinking of the 1,200-ton Cheonan on March 26, killing 46 South Korean sailors.

But it doesn’t identify who is responsible, and “takes note” of North Korea’s response “that it had nothing to do with the incident,” according to the text obtained by The Associated Press.

North Korea has called for a new joint investigation by both Koreas “to verify objectively the truth of the incident” and has warned that its military forces will respond if the council questions or condemns the country over the sinking.

The draft statement “underscores the importance” of preventing further attacks or hostilities against South Korea or in the region, and stresses “the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia as a whole.”

The Security Council scheduled a meeting Friday morning and diplomats said if all council members approve the statement it would be read at an open meeting by the council president.

Presidential statements must be approved by the full council. While they don’t have the clout of resolutions, they do become part of the Security Council’s record.

Diplomats said China, the North’s closest ally and a veto-wielding council member, opposed a third round of sanctions against Pyongyang and direct condemnation of North Korea for the incident while South Korea wanted the council to condemn the North.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, who introduced the draft statement at Thursday’s closed council meeting, told reporters afterward that it was agreed to by the five permanent council members — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — as well as Japan and South Korea.

“This important statement shows the council’s unity in confronting threats to peace and security,” she said.

“It underscores the importance of preventing further attacks and emphasizes the critical need to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in the larger region.”

When a reporter asked whether she believed the statement directly blames North Korea for the attack, Rice replied: “We think the statement is very clear. … It expresses the council’s judgment that the attack on the ship is to be condemned and that no further attacks against the Republic of Korea should be contemplated.”

South Korea sent a letter to the council on June 4 asking the U.N.’s most powerful body to respond to the sinking “in a manner appropriate to the gravity of North Korea’s military provocation.” A South Korean-led international investigation that included experts from five other nations concluded that a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan.

For more than a month, diplomats said, the seven key countries tried to come up with language that would satisfy China and South Korea.

As the discussions were taking place, North Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Sin Son Ho sent a letter to the council on June 29 calling for “high-level military talks” between the two Koreas. He also reiterated the North’s call for its own inspection team to be sent to the site of the sinking near the tense Korean sea border.

South Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Park In-kook responded, saying the ship sinking violated the 1953 Armistice Agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War and should be discussed by the U.N. Command’s Military Armistice Commission, which oversees the truce.

He said in a letter to the council on June 30 that the commission twice proposed to North Korea that generals from North Korea and South Korea meet at the commission to discuss the attack, but the North had “declined to attend these talks.”

North Korea’s Sin responded to that letter on July 6, sending council members a statement from the Foreign Ministry spokesman accusing the United States of violating the Armistice Agreement, including by unilaterally designating a South Korean general in 1991 to head the U.N. Military Armistice Commission.

North Korea does not recognize the U.N. commission and it can’t talk about a violation of the armistice because “the truth behind the ’Cheonan incident’ has not been unveiled yet,” the ministry spokesman said.

The spokesman added that there is now “growing suspicion” around the world about the results of the South Korean-led investigation while “the international community is expressing greater sympathy with our proposal to send an inspection team.”

“Being cornered, the United States and the South Korean authorities are playing cheap tricks with the issue of a consultation forum in an attempt to block the involvement of our inspection team and blur the truth behind their fabricated plot,” the spokesman said.

North Korea reiterated that its inspection team “must be sent to uncover the truth of the incident” and “working-level contacts for north-south high-level military talks must be made to this end,” the ministry spokesman said.

The draft Security Council statement calls for “full adherence to the Korean Armistice Agreement and encourages the settlement of outstanding issues on the Korean peninsula by peaceful means” and an early resumption of negotiations “with a view to avoiding conflicts and averting escalation.”