SEOUL (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council’s likely adoption of a statement on the sinking of a South Korean warship on Friday without blaming the North could shift the focus to nuclear disarmament talks aimed at reining in Pyongyang.
The conclusion of a month-long diplomacy orchestrated by South Korea and the United States with a council president’s statement will also likely mean the leveling off of tension fueled by threats of war on the Korean peninsula.
Diplomats at the U.N. said a draft statement circulated on Thursday by the United States condemned what it called an attack leading to the sinking of the Cheonan, which killed 46 South Korean sailors, but stopped short of blaming North Korea.
“This bodes well for the six-party talks, in the way the wording stresses peace and security in Northeast Asia,” said Baek Seung-joo of the state-affiliated Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul.
South Korea had hoped to see the council adopt a new resolution with binding sanctions imposed on its neighbor as punishment for what it sees as a torpedo attack launched from a submarine that intruded into disputed waters.
The draft has been approved by the five permanent council members, including Pyongyang’s ally China, and will likely be put to a vote when its 15 member states meet again on Friday at 1330 GMT, U.N. officials said.
South Korea, Japan and the United States already have sanctions in place aimed at punishing the North for the sinking of the corvette and Seoul may impose more.
North Korea denies it was involved in any way, saying the accusation is a fabrication by South Korea aimed at politically damaging Pyongyang.
In a turnabout, the North proposed on Friday to hold military talks with the United States on Tuesday to discuss the ship’s sinking. Analysts have said the North would eventually try to talk its way out of the stalemate.
The Security Council statement reflected the pattern of diplomacy taken by China and Russia that was often based on self-interest over what other states considered hard facts, Baek said.
“China’s interest in this case was to check U.S. control over the Korea issue,” he said.
The six-way talks by the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia and hosted by China have been stalled since late 2007 when North Korea said they were over.
A core agreement to compensate Pyongyang in return for moves to end its nuclear programme appeared to lose any relevance as the North tested a long-range missile and set off a nuclear device in 2009, drawing more U.N. sanctions.
Analysts said those sanctions squeezed the North’s failed economy deeper into hardship and drove Pyongyang’s leaders to take provocative actions to divert attention from domestic woes and boost the stakes for disarmament talks.
“As long as Kim Jong-il’s ‘military-first policy’ is in place, we can’t rule out the possibility of a second and third Cheonan incident,” said Ha Young-sun, international relations professor at the Seoul National University.
Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie