Pentagon and U.N. Chief Put New Pressure on N. Korea
By CHOE SANG-HUN and THOM SHANKER
SEOUL, South Korea — Pressure on North Korea over the sinking of a South Korean warship intensified Monday as the United States announced it would conduct joint naval exercises with South Korea and the top United Nations official said the Security Council would need to take some action against the North.
A Defense Department spokesman in Washington, Bryan Whitman, said the naval exercises would be conducted “in the near future” and would be aimed at improving the ability of South Korea and the United States to detect enemy submarines and halt banned shipments of nuclear materials. The announcement was the Pentagon’s first concrete response in the escalating tensions between North and South Korea over what South Koreans have called the deliberate sinking by the North of one of their warships two months ago.
At the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general, told a news conference that “there must be some measures taken,” though he stopped short of saying what those measures should be.
“The evidence is quite compelling,” he said. “ There is no controversy. Therefore it is the responsibility of the international community to address this issue properly.”
Mr. Ban, a former foreign minister of South Korea, said that he tried to separate his own personal feelings from his duties as secretary general but that the attack on the ship compelled him to respond.
Hours earlier, the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, said that his nation would sever nearly all trade with North Korea, deny North Korean merchant ships use of South Korean sea lanes and ask the United Nations Security Council to punish the North.
In Washington, the Obama administration said the measures South Korea announced were “entirely appropriate.” President Obamainstructed American military commanders to coordinate closely with their South Korean counterparts to “insure readiness and deter aggression.”
“The Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Beijing, where she was attending high-level talks between China and the United States that have been overshadowed by the crisis. “Our support for South Korea’s defense is unequivocal.”
The steps outlined by Mr. Lee in a nationally televised speech — coupled with new moves by South Korea’s military to resume “psychological warfare” propaganda broadcasts at the border after a six-year suspension — amounted to the most serious action the South could take short of an armed retaliation for the sinking of the ship, the South’s worst military loss since the Korean War ended in a truce in 1953.
“We have always tolerated North Korea’s brutality, time and again,” Mr. Lee said. “But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts. Trade and exchanges between South and North Korea will be suspended.”
North Korea’s military immediately warned that if South Korea put up propaganda loudspeakers and slogans at the border, it would destroy them with artillery shells, the North’s official K.C.N.A. news agency reported.
Mr. Lee’s speech came just as economic and security talks between China and the United States began in Beijing. In meetings on Sunday evening and Monday, Mrs. Clinton pressed Chinese leaders to take a much tougher position toward North Korea, China’s historical ally. Mr. Lee’s speech was bound to add to the pressure on the Chinese, who have called for restraint.
Mrs. Clinton expressed confidence that the Chinese would agree to take at least some measures, noting that Beijing supported additional sanctions against the North after it tested a nuclear device last year. But other American officials cautioned that Beijing remains unconvinced of the need to punish North Korea in the case of the warship.
“I can say the Chinese recognize the gravity of the situation we face,” Mrs. Clinton said to reporters after Mr. Lee’s speech. “This is a highly precarious situation that the North Koreans have caused in the region; it is one that every country that neighbors or is in proximity to North Korea understands must be contained.”
President Hu Jintao did not mention North Korea in his speech welcoming the American delegation, though he did say the two countries should “strengthen coordination on regional hot-spot and global issues.”
North Korea has denied responsibility for the sinking of the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, on March 26, which left 46 sailors dead.A growing body of evidence assembled by the South has suggested a North Korean torpedo sank the ship.
Cutting off trade with North Korea is the most punishing unilateral action the South could take against the impoverished North. It will deprive North Korea of 14.5 percent of its external trade and $253 million in cash revenues a year, according to estimates by Lim Kang-taek, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
Mr. Lee also said that South Korea would block North Korean merchant ships from using South Korean waters, which would force the ships to detour and use more fuel. North Korean merchant ships made 717 trips to South Korean ports or through South Korean sea lanes last year.
Besides these unilateral measures, South Korea will “refer this matter to the U.N. Security Council, so that the international community can join us in holding the North accountable,” Mr. Lee said. “Many countries around the world have expressed their full support for our position.”
Mrs. Clinton declined to detail specific steps the United States is weighing until after she meets Mr. Lee in Seoul on Wednesday. Other administration officials said the United States might conduct joint naval exercises with South Korea in anti-submarine warfare in the waters off the Korean Peninsula.
But Mrs. Clinton did not suggest that the State Department would soon add North Korea’s name to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, as some members of Congress have demanded. Reinstating North Korea, which was taken off the list by the Bush administration, would only happen if there was evidence that it was involved in acts of terrorism, she said.
In a separate announcement, the Defense Ministry announced the resumption of propaganda blitzes aimed at the North, a cold war tactic with loudspeaker broadcasts along the border, propaganda radio broadcasts and leaflets dropped by balloon. The resumption was bound to irritate the North Korea leader, Kim Jong-il, whose grip on power rests partly on denying outside information to citizens.
North Korea has already warned that such a move would prompt it to shut down the border with the South completely, raising the possibility of stranding 1,000 South Korean workers at a joint industrial park in the North Korean town of Kaesong.
President Lee cited evidence that a multinational team of investigators released last week on the sinking of the ship, saying, “No responsible country in the international community will be able to deny the fact that the Cheonan was sunk by North Korea.”
But he did not mention China by name.
Mr. Lee also stopped short of terminating the Kaesong industrial complex.
Delivering his speech from the Korean War Memorial in Seoul, Mr. Lee drew an analogy between the North’s surprise invasion that started the three-year Korean War on June 25, 1950, and the blast that sank the Cheonan.
“Again, the perpetrator was North Korea. Their attack came at a time when the people of the Republic of Korea were enjoying their well-earned rest after a hard day’s work,” he said. “Once again, North Korea violently shattered our peace.”