UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. Security Council draft statement circulated on Thursday condemned what it called an attack leading to the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, but stopped short of unequivocally blaming North Korea.
Diplomats said the draft had been agreed by the five permanent council members, including Pyongyang’s ally China, as well as by Japan, which is currently on the council, and South Korea, which is not.
It was circulated by the United States to all 15 members of the council and a vote was expected on Friday, they said. A council meeting on Korea would take place at 9:30 a.m. (1330 GMT) on Friday, U.N. officials said.
The 31-line draft, obtained by Reuters, expressed “deep concern” at findings by an international panel that North Korea had sunk the corvette Cheonan. But it also noted Pyongyang’s denial of responsibility.
“Therefore, the Security Council condemns the attack which led to the sinking of the Cheonan,” it said.
South Korea has blamed the March 26 sinking, which took the lives of 46 of its sailors, on a North Korean torpedo attack. Seoul took the matter to the Security Council on June 4, requesting action to deter “further provocation by North Korea.”
Putting together a council statement has been slowed by China, which is believed to be worried about sacrificing influence in Pyongyang while North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il is trying to prepare succession plans in his secretive state.
Diplomats said those non-permanent members of the Security Council who were seeing the draft for the first time on Thursday would refer it to their governments overnight. The text could be amended before its final adoption.
The text under discussion is a so-called presidential statement, which is written into the record of the council and requires the consent of all 15 members. But it is less weighty than the council resolution South Korea had hoped for.
The use of the word “attack” in the draft and its finding that the incident “endangers peace and security in the region and beyond” appeared to rule out an accidental sinking of the Cheonan, such as North Korea’s suggestion that it hit rocks.
North Korea has threatened at least twice that it would respond to any council action over the sinking with a military “follow-up.”
Pyongyang has also said it would be willing to cooperate with the South on a new probe. Seoul has rejected that idea.
South Korea has stuck by the findings in May of its joint civilian and military investigation team, also including experts from the United States, Australia, Britain and Sweden, that a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo that sank the corvette.
The failure of the Security Council to definitively hold North Korea responsible appeared to testify to China’s weight in the lengthy backstage negotiations that led to the draft statement.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, speaking after handing the text to fellow Security Council envoys at a brief closed-door meeting, declined to go beyond the wording of the text.
“We think this is very clear. It states the fact of the North Koreans’ stated position, but it is very clear in that it takes a clear account of the findings of the joint investigation and it condemns the attack,” she told reporters.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman