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South Korea to officially blame North Korea for March torpedo attack on warship

South Korea says North Korea is responsible for the torpedo attack that killed 46 sailors aboard the Cheonan in March.

Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told his South Korean counterpart on Monday that Japan would also support taking the issue to the Security Council, the Japanese news media reported Tuesday.

It is unclear whether Beijing would support taking the issue to the Security Council; a senior Chinese official said China would first need proof that North Korea launched the attack.

Analysts said China would be reluctant to take strong measures against North Korea because its main interest is to keep the country intact. North Korea's collapse would create hundreds of thousands of refugees and probably lead to the emergence of a Western-leaning united Korea on China's border.

"I just cannot imagine the Chinese saying, 'Okay, we agree with you. Let's go to the Security Council and condemn North Korea for their action,' " said Bonnie S. Glaser, a security specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to raise the issue with China when she travels there this week. She will then go to Seoul for a half-day visit next week.

Another consequence of the report, experts predicted, is that Lee will request that the United States delay for several years a plan to pass operational control of all forces in South Korea from the United States to the South Korean military. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

South Korea's conclusion that North Korea is responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan also means it is unlikely that talks about the North's nuclear weapons program will resume anytime soon. North Korea has twice tested what is believed to be a nuclear weapon. During Kim's trip to China last month, China pushed for an early resumption of those talks, but South Korean officials said they will return to the table only after there is a full accounting for the Cheonan attack and a policy response.

The sinking -- and the reluctance of the South to respond with an in-kind attack -- is the latest example of the raw military intimidation that North Korea has practiced for decades. With 1.2 million troops on active duty, the Korean People's Army has positioned about 70 percent of its fighting forces and firepower within 60 miles of the border with the South.

Some analysts suggested that North Korea conducted the attack to avenge the apparent defeat of its navy last November, when a firefight with a South Korean naval vessel left a North Korean patrol boat in flames and one person dead.

David Straub, a former director of the State Department's Korea desk who is now at Stanford University, said that while the Cheonan's sinking was horrendous, it marked more of a return to "normal" behavior for North Korea than a new direction.

"We tend to look at this as shocking because things have been relatively quiet for a decade or two," he said. But North Korea killed 30 sailors aboard a South Korean warship in the 1970s; in 1983, its agents were believed to have been behind a fatal bombing in Rangoon, Burma, that narrowly missed then-South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan.

What has changed, Straub said, is the Western view of North Korea. In the past, North Korean misbehavior was often rewarded with Western attention and aid from Japan and South Korea. But after North Korea conducted its second nuclear test in May 2009, "opinion changed in a fundamental way," he said.

"Before, there was a tendency of government officials to say, 'Well, maybe if we try hard enough to persuade the North Koreans to give up the bomb, they will,' " he said. "Now the conclusion of most people, including in the Obama administration, is that they can't see the North Koreans giving up their nuclear weapons on terms that would be acceptable to anyone."

Harden reported from Tokyo. Staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington contributed to this report.

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