Security Council draft statement condemns sinking of S. Korean vessel, skirts blame

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2010; 7:40 PM

More than three months after the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council reached agreement Thursday on a draft statement deploring and condemning the March 26 attack, but not directly blaming North Korea.

The deal ended months of intensive efforts by South Korea to persuade North Korea's chief ally, China, to back a council statement condemning its northern neighboring for launching a torpedo attack against the Cheonan, killing 46 Korean seamen. Last month, South Korea sent a delegation of top army, naval and intelligence officials to present the council with evidence proving the Cheonan was cut in half by a North Korean submarine.

The United States, France and other council members said the South Korean evidence represented "overwhelming" proof that North Korea bore responsibility for the attack. But in the end, China agreed only to allow the passage of a highly ambiguous statement that hints at North Korean complicity but shields Pyongyang from direct charges that it carried out an act of war.

The deal was struck during a morning meeting of the Security Council's five permanent members -- the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia -- and Japan and North Korea. The United States formally distributed the statement to the full 15-nation council Thursday afternoon.

The council will vote as early as Friday on the statement, which "condemns that attack which led to the sinking of the Cheonan" and "underscores the importance of preventing further such attacks." The council "expresses its deep concern" over the findings of a South Korean led investigation that "concluded" North Korea "was responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan." But it also "took note from the other relevant parties including from [North Korea], which has stated that it had nothing to do with the incident."

A Western diplomat involved in the negotiations said the statement provided more than a hint of North Korean responsibility, noting that it repeatedly uses the word "attack" to describe the sinking of the Cheonan, making it clear that it wasn't brought down by an internal explosion or a mechanical failure. The official also noted that the statement calls for "full adherence" to the Korean Armistice Agreement, implying that the attack constitutes a violation of that accord by North Korea.

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said after the meeting that the proposed statement, if passed, "would send a unified message that the Security Council condemns the attack." She said the "statement needs no interpretation; it's very clear."

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