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(6th LD) Clinton urges int'l community to respond to N. Korea's sinking of S. Korean ship

All Headlines 19:15 May 26, 2010

(ATTN: RECASTS lead; ADDS paras 2-3, RECASTS paras 6-8; ADDS S. Korean official's comments in paras 14-16; ADDS more Clinton quote, details of Lee's meeting with Clinton in paras 18-21)
By Chang Jae-soon and Sam Kim

SEOUL, May 26 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that the international community should not turn a blind eye to North Korea's deadly sinking of a South Korean warship, in an apparent attempt to pressure China to end its protection of the provocative neighbor.

China has been a stumbling block to South Korea's plan to punish North Korea at the U.N. Security Council for mounting an unprovoked torpedo attack on the warship Cheonan on March 26. Despite the seriousness of the sinking, which killed 46 sailors, Beijing apparently fears that pushing Pyongyang too hard could lead to its collapse and hurt Chinese interests.

Chinese backing is crucial for any Council action, as it is a veto-wielding Council member.

"The international independent investigation was objective, the evidence overwhelming, the conclusion inescapable," Clinton told a joint news conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, referring to a five-nation joint investigation into the sinking.

"This was an unacceptable provocation by North Korea and the international community has a responsibility and a duty to respond," she said.

Clinton flew from Beijing where she struggled, apparently unsuccessfully, to convince Chinese leaders to forge a united, tough response to Pyongyang's provocation. She said Beijing understands "the seriousness of this issue" and she hopes it will "really understand the details of what happened and the objectivity of the investigation that led to the conclusion."

China, the North's last-remaining major economic and diplomatic supporter, has been reluctant to use its leverage over Pyongyang for fear that North Korea's collapse would cause instability on its border and ultimately the emergence of a pro-U.S. nation next door, analysts say.

Minister Yu also took a swipe at China and Russia for their vague attitudes.

"Objective data has to speak, and no political judgment should play a role in that kind of data. Factual data is the basis for us to take this issue to the U.N. Security Council," Yu told the conference. "China and Russia, of course, will take time, I'm sure, but they will not be able to deny the facts."

Washington has expressed full support for South Korea's handling of the crisis, with U.S. President Barack Obama directing his military commanders to coordinate closely with the South to ensure readiness and to deter future aggression.

The two allies have also agreed to conduct anti-submarine naval drills in waters off the divided peninsula, a move that would put pressure on North Korea as the impoverished nation has to get its forces on alert in response and spend its scarce resources.

Clinton told the conference that Washington is reviewing "additional options and authorities to hold North Korea and its leaders accountable," but she did not elaborate on what those options are.

"We call on North Korea to halt its provocations and its policy of threats and belligerence toward its neighbors and take steps now to fulfill its denuclearization commitments and comply with the international law," she said.

The U.S. is considering its own sanctions that would affect the North's "finances and money flow," a South Korean official said on condition of anonymity, citing the issue's sensitivity. The official said that Japan is also mulling its own sanctions on the North.

Similar U.S. financial restrictions, which had been enforced in 2005, proved painful to Pyongyang, though they were lifted later amid progress in international talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programs.

The official also said that the U.S., South Korea and Japan plan to keep talking with China.

Clinton's trip to Seoul, though a half-day long, is symbolic of the U.S. security commitment to South Korea as the Asian ally grapples with rising tensions over the Cheonan's sinking. Her four-hour stopover in Seoul also included talks with President Lee Myung-bak.

"We have also underscored our rock solid commitment to the defense of South Korea. There should be no mistaking that by anyone," Clinton said.

Lee's office said that the president and Clinton agreed on "strategic patience" in dealing with North Korea.

"It is not important for North Korea to return to the six-way talks (on its nuclear program). What is important is to show a sincere attitude toward denuclearization," Lee told the U.S. diplomat, according to Lee Dong-kwan, senior secretary for public affairs at Cheong Wa Dae.

"We need to take time in coping with the situation," the president was quoted as saying.

Tensions on the divided peninsula have been running high as South Korea announced a series of punitive steps against the North, which in turn responded with harsh rhetoric peppered with threats of war, greater nuclear capabilities and military strikes.

On the eve of Clinton's arrival, Pyongyang renewed its denial of any responsibility for the sinking, accusing the South of making trumped-up charges against it and declaring that it would cut off any remaining ties with Seoul.

On Wednesday, the North kicked South Korean government officials out of their joint factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong and threatened to shut the complex down if Seoul resumes its anti-Pyongyang broadcasts along the border.

Clinton urged China and other nations to help "make a persuasive case for North Korea to change direction."

"We can't predict what the actual response of North Korean leadership would be, but there is an opportunity here for the North Koreans to understand that their behavior is unacceptable, and therefore they need to look internally toward what they can do to improve the standing of their own people and provide a different future," she said.

The U.S. is South Korea's No. 1 ally and keeps about 28,500 troops in the nation to deter threats from the North. Their alliance was forged during the 1950-53 Korean War, in which U.S. forces fought alongside the South to repel invading North Korean troops.

The conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the sides still technically at war.

jschang@yna.co.kr
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