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North Korea urges U.N. council to back new Cheonan probe

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - North Korea has asked the U.N. Security Council to support its call for a new probe into the March sinking of a South Korean warship that Seoul blames it for, saying it could cooperate on it with the South.

Journalists at an observation post on Baengnyeongdo June 16, 2010 look at the area where South Korean naval ship Cheonan sank. Baengnyeongdo is an island near the disputed maritime border with North Korea, northwest of Seoul. REUTERS/Truth Leem

“We are of the view that the most reasonable way of settling this incident is that the north and south of Korea sit together to probe for the truth,” North Korean U.N. Ambassador Sin Son-ho said in a letter to Mexican U.N. Ambassador Claude Heller, current president of the council. The letter, dated June 29, was obtained by Reuters on Wednesday.

Western council members have dismissed the idea of conducting another investigation, saying a South Korean-led inquiry with international participation yielded a persuasive case against Pyongyang, which Seoul says sank the ship.

That inquiry concluded a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan corvette on March 26, killing 46 South Korean sailors. Pyongyang has denied responsibility and said the results of the South Korean investigation were incorrect.

Sin said the 15-nation Security Council should “take measures that can lead the U.S. and South Korea to receive the inspection group of the National Defense Commission as already proposed by the DPRK (North Korea), the victim, to help verify the ‘investigation result’ and find out the truth.”

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said another inquiry was not needed.

“We don’t think another investigation is warranted at this point,” he told reporters in Washington. “We don’t see any ambiguity here and it’s time for North Korea to take responsibility for its actions.”

A separate South Korean letter to the council, also obtained by Reuters, said that the sinking of the ship was a breech of the 1953 North-South armistice and should be discussed by the commission overseeing the Korean War truce.


The Security Council has been discussing a possible rebuke of North Korea, but China, Pyongyang’s only major ally, has been reluctant to allow any direct criticism that might provoke retaliation by its impoverished communist neighbor.

China, like Russia, the United States, Britain and France, is a permanent veto-wielding Security Council member and can block any action by the panel.

Western council diplomats have said that a statement on the issue agreed on Saturday by the Group of Eight rich nations club, which includes Russia, was very close to language they have been considering in New York for a council resolution or statement on the Cheonan sinking.

The G8 “deplored” the attack on the Cheonan and blamed North Korea for an incident it said “is a challenge to peace and security in the region and beyond.” [ID:nSUN000023]

The diplomats said they hoped the council could agree on something on the Cheonan incident soon but Heller told reporters after the council discussed North Korea behind closed doors on Wednesday that there was still no agreement.

“It is clear that the differences have been narrowed down substantially, but there are pending issues to be resolved,” said an internal document summarizing the Security Council’s North Korea discussions under Mexico’s presidency in June.

In his letter, Sin also asked the council to back the North’s request for high-level military talks with the South.

Pyongyang said on Sunday it was ready for direct military talks with South Korea to discuss the Cheonan sinking but only if the armistice commission is not involved.

One senior Western diplomat described Sin’s letter as “more moderate and more measured” than communications the council usually receives from the North Korean mission. North Korea had previously threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire”.

Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington; editing by Mohammad Zargham